Curry County and the City of Brookings are considering creating an agreement by which the city would take over ownership of the airport and boost light industrial use there to enable the facility to at least break even in a year or so.
Currently, the county owns the airport in Brookings and Curry County Commissioner George Rhodes is appointed to manage it. The airport runs an annual deficit of $15,000 to $30,000 – this year, it’s $26,000 – yet all involved want to transform it into an asset from which the community will benefit.
“The airport has good development potential but needs management,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “The county is not in the position to take the time or effort of airport management.”
For example, he noted, if a restroom needs to be cleaned in the terminal building, the county has to send someone from Gold Beach to take care of it.
The city is also working to get a grant for a 1-million-gallon water tank and associated infrastructure that would likely make the facility more attractive for potential light industrial use.
“Water and sewer service there could be a development opportunity for rent revenue,” Milliman said. “There is interest from others requesting development at the airport pending the arrival of utilities.”
The estimated cost of such improvements is $2.936 million, and the city has received preliminary approval for a $1.752 million federal Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration grant to build it.
This, Milliman noted in a report to the council, is a “great opportunity” to take advantage of low market interest rates. The city just refinanced a loan that will save it more than $720,000 over the 10-year term of the note.
The savings could provide the match the city needs to obtain the grant. Other funds available include $400,000 in loan proceeds that will not be needed for sewer plant slope stabilization if the city receives FEMA grant funds – considered highly likely – and the water’s System Development Charges fund, in which there is a $750,000 balance.
Obtaining ownership of the facility will involve initiating annexation proceedings for the 90-acre airport and an adjacent 14 acres of county land, form a new Urban Renewal Area to include the airport, those neighboring county lands and seven acres of city-owned lands to the south, and making a request to the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority for airport management.
The airport is primarily used by general aviation parties, and has 35 aircraft based there. Two larger corporate planes, one operated by C&K Markets and another by South Coast Lumber, use the facilities, and Cal-Ore Life Flight has a base of operations and uses a large hanger there. Commercial delivery services, such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service, also use the airport.
The regional facility boasts an average of 22,000 landings and departures each year.
Councilor Kelly McClain indicated his concern about taking on the airport – and its debt.
“I’m wondering if this is a good business move,” he said. “It looks like we’re adopting some costs and not getting a whole lot for it, especially if the best-case scenario is breaking even. If we get to the point where it doesn’t make financial sense, I think we should abort.”
Milliman noted that $15,000 to $30,000 is “not much” to recoup if other revenue sources –
perhaps landing fees, light industrial rental and hangars – are brought into the mix.
Councilor Jake Pieper noting that the suggested actions are preliminary and that it could be beneficial for the city to obtain the airport.
“There are other entities talking with the county to get ownership of the airport,” he said. “It’s a losing proposition for the county right now.”
“We’re kind of getting our feet wet,” Councilor Brent Hodges added. “We could lose out if it went to another entity or private ownership.”
Mayor Ron Hedenskog noted earlier this month that, when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami hits, Brookings’ airport could be the only one on the west coast left standing.
The airport, at 459 feet above sea level, is the only general aviation airport in the area not in a tsunami inundation zone. Gold Beach’s airport is 16 feet above sea level; Crescent City’s is 57 feet above the Pacific Ocean.