Ravalli Co. running out of time to acquire land and secure money for airport expansion

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jan 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-13 21:52:41-05

HAMILTON – Ravalli County commissioners are getting into “crunch time” in efforts to secure land for expansion of the airport runways in Hamilton, with the loss of $1 million in funding at stake.

Ravalli County leaders have been trying for 30 years to find a way to extend the runways at the Ravalli County Airport, with the goal of being able to not only handle larger civil aviation traffic such as corporate jets and firefighting aircraft but also to improve safety.

Now, with an FAA-approved plan in place, commissioners are hoping to get moving before a key piece of funding disappears.

“The FAA recently had some supplemental funding drop. With that supplemental funding right now on airport expansion or improvement projects, they’ll pay 90% and then the local government is on the hook for 10% of those costs,” Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows said.

“And when you’re talking about a $12-to-$15 million project that’s a significant amount of money for local government to come up with,” he added.

It’s estimated the county’s share of the airport expansion would cost between $1.2 million and $2.15 million, so commissioners say the additional funding is the key to the entire project.

“So the FAA with this supplemental funding has said that they’re prioritizing projects. And those higher priority projects are in the running for a hundred percent funding on improvement projects right now,” Burrows said.

The problem is that negotiations with the family that owns 160 acres are bumpy. Commissioners say the asking price is as much as four times the county’s appraisal.

“So our options at this point are get through the negotiation process with the landowner — something that can live with and something that we can live with,” Burrows said. “Or the next option is eminent domain process, which we’re trying to avoid at all costs and get through these negotiations in good faith,” he added.

Burrows says condemnation will end up costing everyone more money in the long run. But with time running out, the county may be forced to act very soon.

“Yeah, so the Selection Committee is I believe meeting sometime, probably within the next month or so to make their decisions,” Burrows said. So we’re really under a time crunch to get through these negotiations with the landowner on the land for this expansion project.”

The County says it has offered a number of concessions trying to close the airport land deal, including giving the landowner the option to lease part of the land back for his continued agricultural use.