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Dickinson airport awarded 1.4 million in oil impact funds

Airplanes at the Dickinson Airport from a November tour of the airport's runways.(Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)

The Board of University and School Lands awarded the Dickinson Municipal Airport six grants totalling $1.4 million Wednesday to help make improvements at the airport related to oil-impacted development.

The largest grant awards from the Land Board were for the new Williston Municipal Airport that is under construction. Grants to the northwest North Dakota airport totaled more than $18 million.

Airports in Mohall, Stanley, Tioga and Watford City also received grants ranging from $80,000 to nearly $1 million.

In a press release, grants administrator for the North Dakota Trust Lands Gerald Schwan said that Wednesday's funding announcement of nearly $20 million to Dickinson and Williston commercial airports represents about half of the $40 million appropriated for them in the 2017 Legislature.

"These grants will help modernize and improve the facilities for a number of years to come," Schwan said.

Jon Frantsvog, the chairman of Dickinson's Airport Authority Commission, said that the funding will help the airport with ongoing runway renovation projects.

Essential Air Service

This funding announcement comes amid a major tax reform effort that may indirectly impact a primary funding source of the Dickinson Airport. As a consequence of a federal law passed in 2010, Congress will automatically begin cutting funding to programs if the size of the federal deficit increases.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate tax reform bill could increase the federal deficit by roughly $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, which would trigger automatic cuts to non-mandatory spending programs.

While these cuts would impact much bigger government programs such as Medicare, a health insurance for people over the age of 65, an automatic funding cut for Essential Air Services could also be initiated.

EAS provides roughly $175 million a year in federal subsidies to airports in small communities across the country. The Dickinson airport currently receives about $4.2 million a year of funding from EAS, and airport manager Kelly Braun has said that the airport supports hundreds of jobs and brings in about $70 million in revenue every year to the Dickinson area.

Earlier this year, EAS funding was under threat with a potential elimination of the program in the Trump Administration's proposed budget. EAS has thus far been continued in Congress during budget negotiations, but negotiations for a longer term spending bill are happening in Congress in the next few weeks.

Frantsvog said that the airport commission hasn't yet seen any reason to believe that EAS funding could be cut in the near future.

"At this point in time we're not hearing anything either from the government or the airline saying that planes aren't coming on Monday, none of that is going on," Frantsvog said. "We certainly don't see anything that suggests that they are even nervous about this."

However, he did say that "a bullseye painted on (EAS) again is a repetitive theme" by lawmakers from urban areas that don't directly benefit from the funding.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) was in Dickinson last summer to support continued EAS funding.

"Commercial flights keep Dickinson businesses thriving and keep families connected. But without EAS support during difficult times, Dickinson would lose commercial air travel options—costing Dickinson jobs." Heitkamp said. "I've long been an advocate for EAS funding because it helps enable many of our communities get needed support to thrive, and I'll work to make sure these cuts don't go through."

In March, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) also voiced his support for continued EAS funding.

"Essential Air Service is very important for rural areas, particularly for Jamestown, Devils Lake, and Dickinson," Hoeven said. "While the President has proposed eliminating EAS in Fiscal Year 2018, I believe we'll be able to sustain funding. We're looking to find savings and reductions, but Essential Air Service is a vital program for rural America."

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) has voted to support EAS funding in the past but earlier this year he told columnist and radio host Rob Port that he could be in favor of cutting the program.

"Eliminating the entire program makes more sense to me than cutting it, you know, bits and pieces here and there like it had been tried in the past," Cramer told Port in March. "Everybody talks about what's cut in the Trump budget and they talk about it with their hands wringing, like somehow the world is coming to an end if some bureaucracy gets cut here or there. We have a really big problem in this country starting with a trillion, a $20 trillion debt."

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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