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Lawmakers reauthorize FAA: $2.5 Gregg County airport terminal renovations cleared

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 4, 2011 at 11 p.m.

A $2.5 million renovation of the main terminal at East Texas Regional Airport was cleared for takeoff Thursday when Congress reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration.

The rare, summer-break congressional action, accomplished through a mechanism called unanimous consent, brought sighs of relief from local officials fretting about a centerpiece renovation set to start next year.

"Good. It worked out," Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said upon hearing of the 3:45 p.m. deal. "That's good news. I hope they didn't make any changes."

They did, but those affect rural airports. With an FAA control tower and its 10,000-foot runway, East Texas Regional is not considered a rural airport, Stoudt said.

His optimism was tempered, however. The two-year renovation project is scheduled to seek bids early next year.

"Because of the terminal, and issues that Washington is dealing with right now, I am very cautiously optimistic," Stoudt said. "When we've got the paperwork, and it's signed, we'll be good to go."

The partial shutdown at FAA, which began on July 23, didn't just threaten the Gregg County project. Some 4,000 FAA employees, including the project manager for the Southwest Region, now can return from furlough.

Deputy Airport Director Eugene Bolanowski said the airport's annual inspection now can take place. The regional safety inspector already had moved it up a week to Wednesday in anticipation of furloughs, Bolanowski said. No one knew whether he would actually arrive next week for the annual look-over.

Airport Director Rick Davis noted the partial shutdown had not included critical safety personnel such as air traffic controllers or FAA agents who inspect aircraft.

"The FAA safety inspectors, they were still on the job," he said. "I hope the people that were furloughed can go back to work."

Davis and Bolanowski had said previously the partial shutdown had not affected flights or scheduling. It was the terminal renovation that was up in the air.

That project, funded with FAA money and a $400,000 county match, sets the stage for growth at the airport, Davis said.

In addition to reworking a two-story front facade, the work will separate the passenger waiting area and add rest rooms so flyers don't have to leave once they've passed the Transportation Security Administration screening.

The work will add nearly 100 seats in that secured area, bringing total seating to 150, and vending machines.

Bolanowski said the renovation is scheduled for completion in late 2013, after which construction will start on a sky bridge from the terminal to boarding planes.

"Right now," Davis said, "we have a very limited space in our (passenger) holding area. If we ever want to think about attracting more flights or airlines, we need to have the space to accommodate them."

Gregg County's renovation had been one of more than 250 aviation development projects threatened, or outright halted, by the partial shutdown. Those were tallied at $10.5 billion worth of work for a construction industry already struggling to climb back from recession.



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