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Bemidji Regional Airport: Terminal project on time

Bemidji Regional Airport Terminal construction is on time and slightly under budget, although the latter point was contested.

"We are making headway," Airport Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen told the Airport Authority Wednesday evening.

Construction on the separate rescue and firefighting building is complete, he said, and exterior work and steel erection continues on the main terminal building construction for the $9 million project.

"And we are $50,000 to the good," he said of the project budget.

But Van Leeuwen said he was troubled by comments "on the street" that the project is $1 million over budget. "That's just not true."

Airport Authority member Jim Lucachick argued the point, however, saying the project came in $1 million over the consultant's estimate for the project.

"I don't see that," Lucachick said of Van Leeuwen's assessment that the project is under budget. "The bids were $1 million over the estimate."

Van Leeuwen said the original project was scoped at $11.4 million several years ago, but was molded to fit what federal and state grants could be secured. In the end, grants total 89 percent of the project cost, now at about $9 million.

When construction bids came in high, Van Leeuwen worked with the low bidder to scalp more from the project, and is accepting change orders to delete some of the project. And, he added, some work has been delayed until the grants are secured.

Authority members approved Wednesday the 10th federal grant for the project, for $213,559, with Lucachick mum during the vote.

"We cut back to what the grants allowed," Van Leeuwen said. "I'm looking for what we're approved for under the grants."

"We need some very clear definitions." Said Lucachick, "on the scope of the project and what was bid. We have a consultant's estimate and the bids came $1 million over."

"Donlar came down in price," Airport Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd said of the low bidder contractor.

The actual project budget starts with the approved low bidder's project cost, Van Leeuwen said, adding that the project is now $50,000 under budget at this point. "We tried to whittle it down."

"I need clarification on that," Lucachick said.

Van Leeuwen asked for and won consensus from the other Authority members on his definition of when the project budget started.

The Authority did issue $1 million in bonds to serve as the local match to the grants, he said, and that is being repaid through passenger facility charge fees levied on passengers flying through the Bemidji airport.

The Authority also approved a task order to apply some of the grant to civil engineering costs for the firefighting building, and Lucachick remained silent during that vote also.

Van Leeuwen briefed the Authority on legislative issues, including an effort to exempt air cargo planes from sales tax, a bill carried by Sen. John Carlson,R-Bemidji.

The bill would benefit Bemidji Aviation, which must compete with carriers in nearby states for cargo contracts such as with UPS.

Bemidji Avaition recently purchased two old rebuilt planes and had to pay $60,000 each in tax, he said, while the same plane in Wisconsin would be charged $160.

"That is not manageable when you're competing with the guy in Wisconsin," he said.

The Authority is also awaiting action on a continuing resolution in Congress to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. It seeks an increase in the passenger facility charge from the current $4.50 per passenger.