An Augusta Commission majority voted Tuesday to allow the Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field to accept a $683,074 airport-improvement grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. But -- get this! -- it denied Bush Field permission to proceed with the design work.
Surely Mayor Bob Young and the Commission don't want to derail an exciting, long overdue project that the vast majority of people want to see implemented. That's why the Augusta Commission must not link a $600,000-plus grant for airport design work to a proposed $30,000 transfer from Bush to Daniel Field.
Yet here's where things now stand: Commissioners don't want to OK the design work until Bush Manager Al McDill comes up with agreements with the airlines involved. But McDill will have difficulty getting those agreements without the design.
The Augusta Commission needs to take a deep breath, be reasonable, and logically consider the salient facts:
-- The first phase of the design project will put Bush Field in a position where it can have the information needed to arrange a contract with the airlines. The airlines, naturally, want the design to give them hard numbers on what the project will cost. So why can't the Commission be flexible in this area? After all, this renovation has been in the works for over a year, and Bush Field's Aviation panel has had tentative approval to proceed.
-- The Commission doesn't need to resolve the sticky $30,000 initial transfer from Bush to Daniel at this time. After all, as Bush Aviation Commission Chairman Ed Skinner notes, more than $30,000 is involved. There's a stipulation for more funds to be contributed annually for the next four years. The Aviation Commission shouldn't be asked to preside over an unknown depletion of its funds. Chairman Skinner and fellow Aviation commissioners are only trying to be good fiscal stewards.
-- Let's also remember a large number of community activists have been working for over a decade to bring in more air carriers to Bush Field. We're optimistic this will occur. Yet this controversy comes at a most inopportune time.
No local tax money is being spent on the ambitious Bush renovation. That's why Augusta commissioners OK'd, just two weeks ago, the Aviation Commission's plan to raise revenue bonds and to seek FAA approval to add a $3 surcharge -- which most airports, unlike ours, already charge -- to the price of each airline ticket.
So let's don't wreck what's already been accomplished.
The Augusta Commission and the Aviation Commission can still address the badly-needed terminal project in a statesmanlike manner. It must proceed.
Does throwing the Daniel Field problem into the mix -- which jeopardizes Bush Field expansion, our ties with our air carriers and ultimately our entire area economic development -- really make sense?
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