Prineville will use a $2 million state grant to help pay for improvements that will bring jobs to the Prineville Airport, relieve aviation congestion and make it easier for the U.S. Forest Service to fight fires from the Central Oregon facility.
Prineville councilors approved how the city wants to spend the Oregon Department of Transportation money during a special meeting Tuesday. The grant will go toward an $8 million project that will create a refueling system and a Forest Service facility at the airport by summer 2019. Prineville Airport Manager Kelly Coffelt said the new Forest Service facility would expand the helicopter firefighting operations based out of Prineville.
The improvements are expected to add 50 full- and part-time jobs to the airport.
“It gives the Forest Service the opportunity to fully staff the rappel center, which they can’t do right now,” Coffelt said, referring to the Forest Service firefighting operations where firefighting crews rappel out of helicopters to fight wildfires.
Construction on the new 15,000-square-foot Forest Service facility, as well as an above-ground fueling system that will replace an aging underground system, is scheduled to start by summer 2018, Coffelt said.
“We have quite a bit of design and engineering work to do,” he said, noting that an environmental assessment is underway.
The remaining $6 million for the project will come from the Federal Aviation Administration and Crook County, Coffelt said.
The grant — an ODOT ConnectOregon award — was awarded last summer and is the second such grant the Prineville Airport has received. In 2012 the airport received a $110,000 grant for a new weather observation system.
Beyond the expanded firefighting operations, the new Forest Service facility will also help reduce aircraft congestion at the airport. Coffelt said the way the airport currently is set up can bring long delays during fire season for general aviation aircraft that have to wait for helicopters and air tankers to take off. The new facility, which could add up to eight helipads to the four that are already there, would relocate all the firefighting operations to the north side of the airport. The move is likely to be what general aviation pilots notice the most as far as changes in day-to-day operations go, he said.
“The biggest impact is there will be a lot more flexibility, definitely during the summer, during fire season,” Coffelt said, adding that the new infrastructure that will need to be built to serve the Forest Service facility will also open up that area of the airport for future expansion.
“Between the air tankers and the large helicopters, a lot of times they park in areas that the general aviation users have to taxi between and wait on,” he said. “They’ll see that conflict and congestion reduced.”