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Committee Backs Funds For Airport Hanger, Study

MAYVILLE — A new hanger at the Dunkirk airport has the approval of two county committees, while a proposed study to see if commercial air should ever be brought back to Jamestown has only one committee’s approval.

The full legislature will get the final say this week.

During a meeting of the county Legislature’s Public Facilities Committee, lawmakers noted the county received a grant from the New York State Department of Transportation to pay $456,620 or 79% of the allowable costs incurred for the Chautauqua County/Dunkirk Airport to replace the existing Hangar 3. Chautauqua County was originally responsible to pay for $121,380 or 21% of the anticipated project. However, the cost the project has increased dramatically.

Now the hanger replacement is expected to cost $885,857. As a result, Chautauqua County’s portion increased to $429,237. The increase of $307,857 will be coming out of the county’s contingency account.

Department of Public Facilities Director Brad Bentley said the original bid was from an engineering report three years. Since then, due to COVID-19, the cost of materials have dramatically increased.

County Legislator Jay Gould, R-Ashville, was upset about how the project is now being funded. “You got all of the contingency money for the airport. Don’t plan on ever doing that again. This is the whole county’s money for use all over the county and it’s all gone to the airport,” he said.

Bentley said he understood Gould’s concern. He added that this project will generate revenue. “We have a lot of prospects on this,” he said.

Ron Almeter, county airport and parks manager, said originally the plan was to tear down the airport hanger and build a new one in its place. However that has changed. “During the design phase, the engineers determined that the replacement building could not be built on the same site because of the adjacent buildings. It would impose snow loads on the adjacent buildings. That was unanticipated when we did the original grant request,” he said.

Legislator Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, asked if there were “strings attached” by accepting the state grant, which Almeter said there are. “They do include a commitment to pay back the state if we dispose of the property before the end of (the hanger’s) useful life,” Almeter said.

When time came to vote on the project, Scudder voted against the project while other committee members voted in favor.

It was also approved by the Audit and Control Committee. It now goes to the full legislature for final approval.

In a separate resolution, the committee authorized the expenditure of $72,000 per year for up to three years in direct financial underwriting and $52,000 per year for in-kind services to partially fund operation of commercial air service under a proposed Essential Air Service contract.

Those funds are coming from the $24.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act issued by the federal government.

The study is required by the US Department of Transportation if the county ever wants to have commercial air at the Jamestown airport. “Without this study, you’ve predisposed the answer that you’ll never get it,” said Bentley.

Last month during discussions on the ARPA funding, legislators said they backed the study, although some were reluctant.

One of those who opposed the study in September was Gould, who is the longest serving county legislator. He continued his opposition of the study this week. “We’ve had study after study since I’ve been up here, 20 years worth of them with very little action that comes up. I’ve just had enough studies,” he said.

Scudder, who opposed the hanger at the airport, said at this time he’s in support of the resolution. He cautioned, however, that the study needs to be independent and not predisposed to bringing commercial air service back.

That resolution also passed 3-1, with Gould voting in opposition.

That same resolution was brought before the legislature’s Audit and Control Committee. At that meeting Gould again voted against the study as well as committee Chairman Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown. “We need to come to realize that the days of commercial air service here in Jamestown, although may be desirable by a few, is a thing of the past,” he said before voting in opposition.

Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan also voted against it, while Legislator Tom Harmon, R-Silver Creek, voted in favor.

Even though the resolution did not pass Audit and Control it will still be on the agenda of the full legislature at its Oct. 27 meeting, because it passed the Public Facilities Committee.

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