Feds to cover bill for Libby Airport snowplow

| May 12, 2020 8:22 AM

A new snowplow for the Libby Airport — originally expected to come with a price tag of $300,000 — will now come at no cost to local coffers.

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners got the welcome news at the body’s May 6 meeting. A combination of federal grants and financial aid will now cover the cost of the needed piece of equipment.

The county secured a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration earlier in the year to pay for the bulk of the final bill. But local officials needed to come up with a match for the grant, expected to come out of the county’s payment in lieu of taxes fund.

No longer. Tim Orthmeyer, a consultant for the airport board, told commissioners that as part of the federal government’s stimulus spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all FAA grants would be fully funded from Washington, D.C.

Commissioners had previously received a bit of good news when the sole bid for the project came in under the $300,000 mark. In early April, Missoula-based I-State Truck Center offered to deliver the snowplow for $208,334.

Commissioners described the extra funding as welcome, but they expressed reservations about the catalyst for the extra help.

“I guess that’s all good news,” said County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1). “I’m kind of torn: What the hell does COVID-19 have to do with the airport? I guess as a county commissioner, I should be doing back flips over this.”

The new snowplow will replace the airport’s derelict snow removal vehicle. During the past winter, officials at the airport had to rely on a snowplow loaned by Troy to keep the runways clear.

While they got through the relatively mild winter with the vehicle, airport officials warned that the loaned plow would struggle were the area hit hard by snow. Lacking all-wheel drive, the borrowed snow removal vehicle could only push snow so far off the runway.

A major snow event or two could prove too much for the snowplow, officials warned county commissioners at the time.

The forthcoming snow removal vehicle boasts all-wheel drive. Officials also want to equip it with a steel blade, which would allow it to plow off of the paved runway.

The Libby Airport also will receive $30,000 for operations, usable for up to four years, as part of the federal government’s stimulus spending package, Orthmeyer said. The airport in Eureka will receive $20,000 grant as part of the aid.

“It’s a separate grant for labor, supplies, anything that you want to use it for that you would normally use airport revenue for,” Orthmeyer said.

Peck, though, questioned the rationale for the grants and other government stimulus efforts.

“I’ve got my $1,200, but why am I getting it?” he asked. “[But] I guess you don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“You don’t have to accept the grants,” Orthmeyer replied.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to accept the grant funding. County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) made the motion and Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) seconded it.