Libby Airport snowplow delayed by virus

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | December 29, 2020 7:00 AM

The pandemic has delayed the long-anticipated delivery of a new snowplow to the Libby Airport.

Timothy Orthmeyer delivered the bad news during an update to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 18. Orthmeyer, a consultant for the airport board, said the disruption caused by the coronavirus had apparently led to a delay in getting the necessary post-assembly equipment for the vehicle.

Officials expected the vehicle to arrive in October. At the time, the snowplow was seen as much needed. Libby Airport’s older plow had fallen on hard times and required extensive repairs. In the short-term, officials at the facility had borrowed a truck from nearby Troy to keep the runway clear of snow.

But that vehicle lacked all-wheel drive, meaning it could not push snow very far off of the runway. Officials considered themselves lucky that the 2019-20 winter was relatively mild. A buildup of snow at the end of the runway could have caused problems for the airport.

Orthmeyer told commissioners that he expected the snowplow to arrive by January. When County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) asked whether county and airport officials should work on a backup plan given the delay, Orthmeyer said the facility already found a substitute vehicle.

“The last time I talked to Rob Fox [facility manager] at the airport, he felt the snowplow truck that he had was working OK until then,” Orthmeyer said. “Last time we talked, he was OK with the fact that it was going to get delivered later than planned.”

Orthmeyer did not know any details about the temporary vehicle, but Bennett said it likely was the airport’s older plow, repaired to working condition.

“They have rebuilt the older snowplow truck,” Bennett said. “That’s probably what he’s using.”

Commissioners had briefly considered selling the older vehicle when facing a shortfall while crafting the county budget in late summer.

The soon-to-arrive replacement vehicle was originally expected to cost $300,000. Commissioners planned to pay for a portion of it, with the bulk of the funding coming from federal coffers. That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent federal response to the economic devastation wreaked by the coronavirus.

In May, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that all grant projects would receive full funding.

That came on the heels of commissioners learning that the final price tag for the vehicle would fall under expected cost. In April, Missoula-based I-State Truck Center bid $208,334 to build the vehicle.