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Eureka Airport fuel upgrade stalls

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | January 25, 2022 7:00 AM

County commissioners shelved a proposed fuel system upgrade at the Eureka Airport after the project missed out on possible state funding earlier this month.

Officials with the county airport board put the cost of adding a Jet A fuel tank to the airstrip at about $472,000 when they pitched the upgrade late last year. At the time, Bill Caldwell of the county airport board cited an anecdotal increase in demand for services at the north county airstrip as the reason for the project.

“There is some business activity that may or may not happen, but fuel is a limiting factor and so it seemed like maybe now is the time to try and put in a Jet A facility,” he told commissioners in December.

Caldwell and Nick Enblom of the engineering firm Morrison-Maierle pitched two possible funding options. The primary proposal hinged on a grant from the Aeronautics Division of the state Department of Transportation. If that failed to materialize, the county could pursue a loan, also through the Aeronautics Division.

The latter proposal, in particular, drew an unenthusiastic response from County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2). His concern grew when Caldwell acknowledged that revenue for fuel sales likely would fall short of paying back the loan, at least not in the short term.

“It’s not in my nature to borrow the money and hope it gets paid back,” Bennett said.

Still, commissioners asked Caldwell and Enblom to return with an update on the grant request, which already had gone before state officials.

Caldwell and Enblom were back before the board of commissioners on Jan. 19 with bad news. Enblom said the state aeronautics board opted against funding any buildings or fuel system upgrades this year.

“They had $3 million in funding,” he said. “It primarily went to paving or navigational aid projects.”

Money set aside for loans dried up quickly as well, Enblom said. Two projects, one in Miles City the other in Lewistown, earned the bulk of the dollars.

“At this point, it’s more of discussion if we want to move forward with it at all or table it for the future,” Enblom said.

Bennett asked whether airport officials could find an alternative to meet demand for Jet A fuel at the facility.

“I was struggling with the half million dollars anyway for a fuel system on a personal level,” Bennett told Caldwell. “Are there alternatives that would help meet some of that need in Eureka?”

Caldwell indicated that members of the airport board would explore other options at an upcoming meeting.

“Take a look at what might be out there,” Bennett said. “I’m trying to balance the need with the cost in my own mind. I struggle with that a little bit.”