Airport funding confidence high

About $60 million from the state is expected to go toward the $250 million airport relocation. So far, about $19 million of that amount has been already distributed, and local lawmakers, along with city officials involved in the project, say they still believe the remaining $40 million will be allocated for the project.

“I still feel confident that we are going to find a way to get that funding for this next biennium,” State Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston, said, adding that the money may not come in a lump sum as originally hoped.

Legislators intended to draw the amount from oil impact grant funds, but those reserves are nearly depleted.

“That bucket was supposed to fill up to $140 million, and it didn’t,” Sukut said. “It’s hard to tell just exactly how (airport money) might get put together; there are so many issues right now that are involved in all of the funding that until some of these budgets that have to be met are stabilized, it’s hard to tell.”

Predicted revenue totals for the remainder of the 2015-2017 biennium, which ends June 30, show $46 million less than expected, and a $103 million shortfall for the general fund for 2017- 2019, Gov. Doug Burgum said on Thursday.

Among the cuts Burgum has suggested is to direct more oil tax revenue into the general fund, diverting it away from oil-producing areas of the state, including Williston.

Burgum proposes allowing $900 million, up from $300 million, in oil production tax into the state’s overall coffers.

A decision on where money for the new Williston airport comes from may lie with appropriations committees in the House and Senate, according to lawmakers.

“There have been discussions among leadership that Senate Bill 2013 will be the vehicle to amend the airport funding into,” Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, said.

The bill has been approved by the Senate and passed to the House.

Last month, legislators voted down a bill that included money for the airport and outlined the distribution of oil tax revenue to cities and towns in the state’s oil-producing western region.

While local officials acknowledge the unpredictable climate surrounding budget decisions, they say state money is essential for the new airport, which is in turn essential for financial growth in Williston.

“In this climate nothing’s for sure,” Mayor Howard Klug said, before pointing out that although construction has not yet started, the project is well underway, and in a position to take advantage of relatively lower-priced construction materials and services.

“We can’t continue to say that we’re going to have a first-class economy with the airport that we have,” he said. “We’re a long ways down the path toward building this airport. To get the project done and to get it done on time under budget, it has to be what was promised to us. The money needs to come in now so we can get this airport done by 2019.”

Officials have said the project will be paid for by a combination of city, state and federal money, with the FAA covering half of the cost, and the city and state splitting the difference. So far, the FAA has awarded about $54 million in grants, which have yet to be released.

Last fall, the city finalized the purchase of about 1,600 acres northwest of Williston from private landowners as the future site of the new Williston Basin International Airport, which is to take the place of the aging Sloulin Field International Airport.

Construction is scheduled to start this spring.

By Elizabeth Hackenburg

Mar 11, 2017