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Turch approved as Bemidji Regional Airport lobbyist

David Turch & Associates was renewed as the Bemidji Regional Airport Authority's Washington, D.C., lobbyist Wednesday night in a near unanimous vote.

The lone dissent came from Authority member Jim Lucachick, a Beltrami County commissioner, Harold Van Leeuwen, Airport Authority executive director said Thursday.

"It was a quiet 'no,''" said Van Leeuwen.

The authority renewed its professional services contract with David Turch & Associates with an option for another year at $2,000 a month, the same fee as the previous four years, or $24,000 a year.

Beltrami County had also retained the firm to lobby for county human services issues before Congress, but terminated that contract a year ago, not finding the success it had sought in lobbying.

"It is critical to have representation at the federal level that articulates airport needs," said Van Leeuwen. That's especially the need after long-term U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, was defeated this fall by Republican Chip Cravaack. Oberstar was chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

There is a new FAA authorization bill to be written this year that will affect airport funding and operations directly in the near and long term," said Van Leeuwen.

Turch lobbying helped retain federal funds for the airport's $8 million terminal expansion and renovation, which now may see delayed funding as Congress has yet to approve fiscal funding for the FAA.

For lack of a continuing resolution to fund government, some funding for the terminal project may be delayed, forcing the project to be split into two phases, Van Leewen said. Already a month behind in construction, it is hoped to make up that difference this summer.

The FAA is unable to award grants because it does not have clearance in the continuing resolution to award such grants, he said.

"We're not sure about the jet bridge and the rest of the parking lot," he said. "Right now there is no authorization for the FAA at all. Until we get that, we may be doing a Part A and Part B again this year like we did last year, or they may give us the whole thing in May. Right now, we're kind of in limbo.

"It's not that it won't get done, it's a timing issue," Van Leeuwen added. "This is why we need advocacy -- some little airport sitting out here at the end of the stick isn't going to be very obvious to that congressman sitting up there."

He called the Oberstar defeat "a big loss."

But while the new Republican House is banning earmarks, the Bemidji Airport Authority hopes to woo an ally in Rep. Cravaack, who not only has a seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee but was appointed Thursday to be vice chairman of its Aviation Subcommittee.

"Congressman Cravaack's experience as a pilot and dedication to serving our country make him a valuable addition to these subcommittees, and a particularly strong choice to serve as Aviation Subcommittee vice cchairman. I look forward to his contributions to the work of producing fiscally responsible legislation to improve our nation's infrastructure," said Transportation Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who also appointed Cravaack to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

"I'm honored to be named vice chair of the Aviation Subcommittee," said Cravaack. "There is much work to be done on all of three of the subcommittees on which I now sit. Each of them covers issues and areas that are of vital importance to my constituents in the 8th District -- from the Port of Duluth and the Iron Range to the vast resources of our forestlands. I look forward to working with Chairman Mica and the rest of my colleagues on the Committee."

The Subcommittee on Aviation oversees aviation safety and infrastructure and the programs of the Federal Aviation Administration, including NextGen air traffic control modernization. The subcommittee also monitors the impacts of transportation security on aviation safety, the traveling public, and the industry.

The subcommittee is responsible for writing the next major multi-year authorization of the nation's aviation infrastructure and safety programs and policies. As vice chairman, Cravaack will play an active role in the subcommittee's work, and be called upon to fulfill the chairman's duties as necessary.

Van Leeuwen said the authority delayed approval of marketing contracts until its February meeting as the state on Wednesday was in the process of adjusting its allocations for marketing.

The airport marketing grant will involve about $30,000 from the state and $13,000 in local funds to hire Korpi and Trillion firms for local airport marketing efforts.

Delta Airlines is currently providing two daily flights to Bemidji, which will increase to three flights this summer, Van Leeuwen said.

Currently, the city is being served with a Saab turboprop during the day and a CRJ regional jet on an overnight. "On April 1 we lose the Saab and get a second CJR for April and May, and for the summer it looks like we will go with all jet service for the summer," he said.

Because of bad weather in December, the Bemidji Regional Airport lost about 10 percent of its flights, he said.

"You can't make holiday traffic up as you can business traffic because those people are committed to a vacation and they either go or they don't go," he said. "We ended up being within three people of the same level of service we had last year. Given that we didn't have canceled flights last year, I'll take that as a good omen."