Libby Airport board to pursue federal funds for snow equipment

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The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners gave Libby Airport officials permission to pursue a $300,000 federal grant to buy an all-wheel snowplow vehicle, but said the transit hub needs to work toward self-sufficiency.

As part of the potential arrangement with the Federal Aviation Administration, the county must contribute $15,000 toward the vehicle requisition. The state government will kick in another $15,000, airport officials said.

In November, officials told the board of commissioners the airport’s existing vehicle was on its last leg. It required as much as $30,000 of work before becoming serviceable again, they said at the time.

In the interim, the airport has used a vehicle loaned by Troy for plowing, said Bill Caldwell, chair of the airport board. But the truck lacks all-wheel drive, meaning it can only plow snow so far from the runway. That could pose a problem were the region to weather a significant snow incident, he said.

Once snow sets, it requires much heavier equipment to move, Caldwell said.

“The regular trucks are all-wheel drive and yours aren’t and that’s causing a problem — fortunately not this year so much,” Caldwell said. “It is working, happily, because we don’t have much snow.”

County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) made the motion to approve the request, but only if airport officials sought dollars to offset the county’s contributions. The money would come out of the county’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) fund.

“By saying up to $15,000, if you can come up with a few thousand then we could match up to that and that way the motion would stand and we could work those details out,” Bennett said.

Both Bennett and County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) said they support the airport, but said costs add up quickly at the facility.

“That airport is an expense, even with the grants,” Peck said. “It’s $15,000 here, $35,000 there.”

He acknowledged the critical role the airport plays in firefighting operations, but years can pass between incidents where the airport is used for that purpose. In the meantime, county officials have to balance expenses there against other needs, he said.

“It’s just a lot of really competing big dollar items coming down the road. We’re looking at dealing with the jail, the whole EMS situation,” Peck said. “We just want to be open about where things are at.”

Bennett also mentioned looming costs at other county agencies.

“I wish we had a lot more money available, but we simply don’t,” he said. “We’re looking at the sheriff’s office and EMS and all of these contributing factors. The airport is simply a microcosm of what we’re facing in totality as a county. It’s not that we don’t’ want to support [the airport], it’s just how do we do that.”

Bennett and Peck ultimately voted in favor of pursuing the federal grant. County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) was not in attendance.

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