MISSOULA - This edition of Current Events with Missoula Current founding editor Martin Kidston takes a look at the possibility of Ukrainian refugees being resettled locally as well as the ongoing expansion of the airport.
“The IRC in Missoula confirmed that they are expecting a handful of refugees over the weeks and coming months. President Biden pledged a couple weeks ago to bring 100,000 refugees into the U.S. as part of the humanitarian effort that Europe is currently struggling with as Ukrainians flee their country. Some of those Ukrainians will end up in the United States and some of those will end up in Missoula through the International Refugee Conference in town,” Kidston said.
“They don't have an exact number yet, but in the past, they set a benchmark of about 100 refugees annually. There's a good chance we could so some refugees funneling into Missoula. The IRC says it's going faster than expected. They're trying to scramble to get ready for this but I think they are prepared and eager to help.”
Concerns about safety and the vetting process were voiced when Afghan refugees were resettled in Missoula, but no similar concerns have been voiced about refugees from Ukraine.
“Strangely not yet. There seems to be no concern at this point over assisting Ukrainian refugees. Of course, last year when the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan it created a flood of humanitarian crisis issues,” Kidston explained. “The U.S. went in and did the largest non-military airlift of non-combatants in military history. Many of those refugees ended up in Missoula, a couple hundred. We also have refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have Iraqi refugees and a handful of other countries that have settled in Missoula and trying to gain a new life here in our city."
Another topic we've looked at before is the continuing renovations taking place at the Missoula Airport.
"That's pretty exciting. Phase one has been under construction now for a couple of years. It's costing about $69 million, and it offers space for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and several passenger gates. It's set to open May 4. That's when the airport plans to cross over from the old terminal to the new terminal. Once May 4th passes, they'll begin deconstructing the old terminal,” Kidston said.
“Last week they set aside $42 million in financing. They approved that financing package and they set a contract with Martel Construction to begin bidding out that project. We should begin seeing work later this year on phase two as long as that financing package holds together. That's good news for Missoula passengers. We all know the old airport is relatively crowded and very outdated.”
The second phase of work will include adding jet bridges and boarding gates.
“Phase one offered four jet bridges and it offered several ground boarding positions. Phase two will add two additional jet bridges and at least two additional ground boarding gates. There is an opportunity that phase three could play out along sid phase two,” Kidston explained. “If that happens, we could see another jet bridge and more boarding gates so the airport should be well-positioned to handle the increase in air passenger traffic and passenger demand for Missoula for years to come.”
“Phase two will include a permanent baggage claim. There will be two bag carousels and other concession opportunities so it will really enhance what the airport has accomplished over the last couple of years,” Kidston concluded.