House Passes Bill That Would Give Airport Swifter Access To Federal Funds

The House of Representatives passed State Rep. Dylan Fernandes’ airport bill H.3792 on Monday, which would allow Nantucket’s Select Board to appropriate funding to the Nantucket Memorial Airport that is needed to receive federal funding for infrastructure and maintenance projects from the FAA. The airport currently can only receive fund appropriations with the approval of voters at the Annual Town Meeting.

“The Town Meeting format and the timing of the Annual Town Meeting doesn’t align with the federal grant process,” assistant airport manager Noah Karberg said. “In the past couple of years it has become really apparent and really problematic. The last Town Meeting was pushed to June and that is past the FAA deadline for grant funding, which is in early May.”

The FAA requires the approval of funding by an airport’s town or city before granting the funds for projects. This is confirmation for the FAA so they know the town wants and needs a particular project. At least 90 percent of infrastructure projects on Nantucket are funded by the FAA.

Karberg said federal stimulus funds have been available in recent years but the airport has had difficulty getting a hold of them because of the lack of flexibility they currently have to get funding approval.

“These funds are available for shovel projects, which are projects that can be done very quickly and approved of very quickly,” he said. “Without the ability to go to a governing body in short order and say ‘hey, this is a project we could miss out on if we don’t get this funding,’ we miss out on all of that.”

Airport Manager Tom Rafter said the airport has made due with what they have but is behind in their infrastructure repairs and renovations. Karberg added that they would like to be prepared and have the flexibility in case the federal infrastructure bill, which just passed the house, is approved and makes a plethora of funds up for grabs.

“There is a lot of federal infrastructure funding that just passed the house and goes to Senate next. If we don’t get this ready and approved, we will miss out on all of that funding,” he added. “Other airports in Massachusetts and across the country will have access to this funding but we won’t.”

Fernandes’ bill will head to the Senate next before reaching Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s desk. The expectation from government and town officials since this bill was filed in March has been that this will be approved, but it is uncertain when exactly it will be on Baker’s desk to be signed.

Karberg said Nantucket’s infrastructure is just beginning to age out. The airport is expected to have their $19 million rehabilitation of Taxiway Echo, the airport’s main taxiway, completed by the spring of 2022. The FAA paid for the entirety of that project after CARES Act funding took Nantucket off the hook for at least five percent of the money.

But that is just one of the many areas the airport will need to renovate and improve moving forward.

“Pavement is 20 to 30 years old and needs rehabilitation,” he said. “It isn’t like this is funding we want to have to do optional work. These are projects we need to get done. A major one coming up in the next five or six years is the reconstruction of Runway 624, or at least most of it. That is our major runway. It is an expensive piece of infrastructure.”

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