City set to receive fourth grant

by: JEFF WILSON - The city hopes to replace two aging fuel tanks with its latest Connect Oregon grant.When the city of Madras won a $2.1 million Oregon Department of Transportation grant for a new airport hangar back in 2008, city officials predicted that it would be transformational within the decade.

By some accounts, that prediction has already been realized. The construction of a new city hangar, which first housed Butler Aircraft and then Erickson Aero Tanker, was followed by construction of a larger new hangar, completed last month, intended as a museum to house the aircraft collection of Jack Erickson.

"Visiting with Aero Air and Erickson Group, Kevin McCullough (Aero Air president) stated that their companies would not have looked at Madras for relocating and expanding operations unless the city of Madras had built the new heavy aircraft maintenance hangar in 2009," commented City Administrator Gus Burril, who was the city's public works director when the city applied for that first grant in 2007.

Since 2008, when the city received its first ODOT Connect Oregon grant for $2.1 million, it has received two additional grants, and is set to receive its fourth, all transforming the airport into an active business hub.

In August 2010, the city was awarded a Connect Oregon III grant of $1.7 million to improve the taxiway, ramp, lighting and install an automated weather observation system, and in July 2012, Connect Oregon IV granted Madras $619,020 for rail improvements and a railroad spur for Wilbur-Ellis.

Last week, Airport Manager Rob Berg and Madras Public Works Department Director Jeff Hurd were on hand when the Final Review Committee recommended that the city receive a $792,000 Connect Oregon V grant for aviation improvements.

"Madras came in fourth out of 109 applications in rail, aviation, bike/pedestrian, transit and marine," said Berg, explaining that the city's application was ranked second in the aviation mode, and second in the region. The city of Redmond's request for $1,225,812 for a $19.6 million runway rehabilitation project topped the state's list for all modes, and the region's aviation list.

Only one hurdle remains before the grant is awarded in August — a public hearing July 17, in Salem, before the Oregon Transportation Commission, which adopts the final project list. The commission will make its final decision Aug. 21-22 at its meeting in Ontario.

"The city is well positioned this year to be awarded a grant for $792,000 to perform airport improvements, including runway rehabilitation, taxiway apron improvements, and aviation fuel tank replacements," said Burril, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration will be setting aside more than $3.2 million for runway rehabilitation work.

"The Connect Oregon grants have been instrumental in the city bringing new business to town and anchoring an even larger business group when Erickson Aero Tanker acquired the DC-7 operation and hangar assignment from Butler Aircraft," said Burril.

"Tourism will be increased to the community by the new air museum, and jobs and business activity are being increased at the airport and industrial park," he said.

Berg, who has been the airport manager since 2006, has seen major change resulting from the grants during his tenure at the airport. "They have been very transformational for our airport," he said. "Activity has increased. We're becoming a lot more known in the aviation world. Between calls, emails and Web postings, it's nonstop."

Connect Oregon has been around since 2005, when the Legislature created the program to invest the proceeds of lottery-backed bonds in grants and loans for air, marine, rail and public transit infrastructure projects, which help promote economic development in Oregon. The Legislature invested about $100 million in each of the first three two-year phases, $40 million for the 2011-2013 biennium, and $42 million for the 2013-15 biennium.

The city of Madras missed out on the first cycle, but became active in the application program for the second biennium, under former city administrator Mike Morgan, Berg recalled.

From its first application, the city has enjoyed considerable success in rising to the top of the funding lists, thanks to the dedication of individuals, proper presentations, and great projects, according to Berg.

"We have good projects that make sense to the state," he said. "We've completed all our projects on time and on budget."

"This all translates into more robust economic opportunities for Madras," Burril said. "The city continues to strategically invest in road, utility, railroad and airport infrastructure improvements, so we can offer businesses the opportunity to grow, expand and relocate to our community."

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