August 5, 2011
By Christine Hawes
MANATEE — Even with a bipartisan deal predicted today for federal aviation funding, it’s unknown how $3.5 million worth of future projects at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport will be affected by the impasse that congressional leaders say they’ll end today.
“Even when they get back to work, they’re going to have a backlog,” Rick Piccolo, the airport’s executive director, said of the federal administrative workers who have been furloughed since around July 22. “I don’t know how quickly they’ll finish processing our projects. It depends on how high we are on the pile and how complicated the other projects are.”
The airport board already has given preliminary approval to a $2.5 million roof repair and a $750,000 taxiway turn-off project that are supposed to start around October.
But because the projects are funded with grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, they have to be processed by federal workers. The 4,000 federal aviation workers furloughed by the congressional funding impasse includes the administrative workers at the Orlando Airport District Office who process the grant applications.
“By now, we would have sent documents, and contract specifications off to the ADO, they would have reviewed it, would have said, ‘It complies,’ would have sent a grant offer, and the board would have accepted it,” Piccolo said early Thursday. “But if you call up to the ADO right now, no one answers the phone, because no one’s there.”
Piccolo said that while he’s confident the FAA funding will be worked out sooner or later, too much of a delay could push each of the six-month projects into next year’s rainy season.
But the project manager for the roof project said he is confident his firm will avoid any delays.
“We’ll try to avoid that,” said Jim Grubbs, project manager with Brooks and Freund out of Fort Myers. “Right now, I can’t foresee any impact.”
Nevertheless, the airport authority’s chairperson expressed much of the same sentiment that’s been heard nationwide about the impasse.
“It kind of ticks me off,” said Bob Waechter. “Here these guys are on vacation, and these other poor guys are out of work.”
The two houses of Congress left earlier this week for their five-week vacation without settling the FAA funding dispute, which many attribute to partisan squabbling.
Democrats are accusing Republicans of attaching an amendment to the funding that reduces subsidies to some rural airports, while Republicans have accused Democrats of holding out on a funding bill vote because they don’t like the amendment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced late Thursday that a bipartisan agreement had been reached, and that the dispute would likely be resolved by the end of today.
The furlough of 4,000 federal aviation workers has delayed 150 to 250 constructions projects nationwide and left up to 70,000 construction and related workers idled.
Current construction projects at the airport, including work on escalators, restrooms and a runway, were unaffected by the impasse.