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$1.7 million grant for Brookings’ airport

The City of Brookings has received a $1,762,110 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to extend sewer and water services to the airport and proposed industrial park nearby.

The $2.5 million to $2.9 million project – for which the city will pay the balance – will include the construction of a 1 million-gallon water storage tank north of the airport. Additionally, the industrial park would be developed there to further economic diversity and expansion for the city.

The money comes from the 2012 Disaster Relief Opportunity through the U.S. Department of Commerce and is intended to support a community’s long-term recovery, create jobs, leverage private investment and prepare for disasters.

 

Curry County was a co-applicant for the grant funding as owner of the airport.

“This is a significant economic development and emergency preparedness investment for this community,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “We are pleased that the federal government has recognized the potential of this project and has chosen to assist us with funding.”

The airport could provide a lifeline to the community during a major emergency – and particularly if roads are swept away in landslides or a tsunami, said City Manager Gary Milliman.

“The airport may be the only transportation resource available for much of Curry and Del Norte counties following a major tsunami,” he said. “It will likely be a staging area for the delivery of disaster assistance.”

Milliman cited a 2009 Oregon Department of Transportation report on the seismic vulnerability of highway bridges in Oregon. That study found that U.S. 101 along the Oregon coast will be impassible after a major quake and all connections from the coast to the Willamette Valley will be broken.

Emergency planners estimate that highway access to Brookings and Curry County would likely not be restored for more than six months following a major earthquake and tsunami.

“The airport is designated as a regional staging area for the receipt of supplies and other  resources in the event of need for disaster relief,” said Border Coast Regional Airport Authority Director James Bernard. “Having adequate water and sewer facilities available at the airport is essential to sustain a disaster relief effort.”

The 1 million-gallon water tank will also enhance fire protection and provide a reserve to sustain the water system if the city’s water is disrupted.

“In many ways, this is an emergency preparedness project,” Milliman said.

The work also serves as an economic development project, as city officials envision significant potential light-industrial development in the area.

Milliman noted that build-out of the Airport Master Plan and any light industrial use is dependent on city utility services there.

“We have a shortage of land within the city limits to support light industry and there are 15 to 20 acres of land at and adjacent to the airport that could be developed for this purpose,” Milliman said.

He has received inquiries from small businesses looking for places to relocate their shops and unable to find a suitable location in Brookings.

“With the completion of the broadband redundancy project this fall, we expect these inquires to increase,” Milliman said. “This project will put us in a better position to respond.”

One such project is the development of a base for by Cal-Ore Life Flight. In a letter supporting the grant application, Cal-Ore President Dan Brattain said Cal-Ore recently leased space at the airport to develop a crew quarters and helicopter pad. 

A typical base location employs about 12 employees, including nurses, paramedics, pilots and mechanics. The approximate cost of set-up, training, facilities and equipment range from $750,000 to $1 million.

Brattain said having adequate water and sewer facilities at the airport is essential to development of the base.

In his support letter for the grant, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley noted that Curry County is the largest urban community in rural Curry County.

“The county has been hard hit in the recent economic downturn and is struggling to improve infrastructure to attract and promote local business,” Merkley said. “This funding will go a long way to help Brookings and Curry County rebound from the recession.”

Bernard feels the airport is a significantly underutilized economic resource.

“There is a lack of ‘shovel ready’ light industrial land in Brookings, and this project would make light-industrial sites available for both air-dependent and general light industry development.”

The city has been working with EDA staff on the grant application since April. Officials will now wait for the final agreement and then begin construction design, Milliman said. He is not sure if work will be under way by next summer.

The city has started the process of annexing the airport and some adjacent lands into the city limits and is exploring forming an Urban Renewal Area to include the airport and that land within the Urban Growth Area.

 That would provide the city with additional ways to attract new private investment in the area, and a way to recover some of its initial investment in the water and sewer extension project, Milliman said. The City is also exploring possible acquisition of the airport from the county.

“The federal government does not just hand money out to every community that applies,” noted Hedenskog. “It took a lot of tenacity on the part of staff to get this project funded.” 

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