The county is poised to begin a “rebuilding process” for its airport system and has blueprinted a variety of major improvements.
Expanding the parking lot at the California Redwood Coast Humboldt County Airport in McKinleyville and planning an expansion of the airport’s terminal are two of the many projects paid for through an $18 million federal CARES Act grant.
The CARES Act pandemic relief and stimulus funding will also pay for maintenance equipment and upgrading or rebuilding hangars for privately owned airplanes at the county’s six airports.
The Board of Supervisors fielded an update on the Airport Capital Improvement Plan at its March 15 meeting.
Saying that the county’s airport infrastructure is entering a rebuilding phase, Aviation Director Cody Roggatz told supervisors the county is in the running for an additional $12 million in federal funds for improvements to the main airport’s runway and “antiquated” electrical systems.
He said that with more airlines operating, parking gets “extremely constrained” during peak travel times and the parking lot project will increase the airport’s number of spaces from 375 to 575.
The county is also eyeing a project that will “rehabilitate, reconstruct and reconfigure” the main airport’s terminal. The CARES Act funding will pay for the project’s planning work, which when done will open opportunity for additional federal funding.
It also covers the costs of hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the condition of the county’s aircraft hangars and improving or rebuilding them.
Roggatz said $5 million of the CARES Act funding is allocated to “basically rebuilding as many of our hangars as we possibly can.”
The main airport’s hangars are about 12 years old and those at the county’s satellite airports are 30 years old or older.
The county airport system has navigated through some turbulence in recent years. A lawsuit related to hangar maintenance and leasing was dismissed earlier this year.
But at last month’s meeting of the county’s Aviation Advisory Committee, pilots objected to hanger rent increases and lack of maintenance.
Supervisors support the sweeping program to improve airport facilities. But Supervisor Mike Wilson noted the county’s high number of airports related to its population size and warned of future costs.
“We’re probably going to be facing some difficult discussions about maintaining these infrastructures,” he said.
He added that although the capital improvements costs are covered in federal budgets, “There may be (county) General Fund allocations and decisions that we’re going to have to make in the future that are relative to long term maintenance.”
Roggatz responded by describing the airport planning process, which will involve public meetings in communities near the county’s airports. “I do anticipate we will be looking at what is the reality of our six-airport system moving forward and evaluating that and getting the public’s feedback in that planning process,” he said.
The projects covered by the CARES Act grant will be done over the next two years.