Thursday, December 8, 2016

City facing short deadline for Williston Basin International Airport funding: Williams County approved recording deeds early so Federal Aviation Administration will start reimbursement

Under pressure from a federal agency to submit proof that land acquisition at the site of the city’s new airport is complete, local officials are hoping to have deeds to the property in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration by Thursday afternoon at the latest. 

The documents’ submission will trigger the reimbursement of a $27 million grant awarded to the project by the FAA last September. 

County officials helped speed up the process on Tuesday during the Williams County Commission’s regular meeting, when David Tuan, Williston’s city administrator, asked for permission to record three of the deeds before sectioning off parcels of land that will not be used for the airport. 

Seven of the deeds have already been recorded with the county, but the remaining three parcels need to be subdivided because their boundaries fall outside of the scope of the new airport. 

The subdivision process, which is usually required to take place before deeds are recorded, can be lengthy, and federal aviation officials are not willing to wait, Tuan said. 

“Some of these timelines with the FAA are very difficult to meet,” he told commissioners. 

Although the request was granted in a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Martin Hanson questioned why city officials found themselves short on time. 

“Without this approval, you can’t apply for the funding to buy stuff you already bought?” he asked before voting against the expedited recording. 

“It’s just a matter of helping them speed up the process to get the funds they’ve allocated for the airport,” Commission Chairman David Montgomery said. “They’re still going to do it right, it’s just a little backwards.”

The normal subdivision process for a piece of land in Williams County includes submitting applications to a number of departments, which review documents before property divisions are approved. 

“Depending on a number of variables, but mostly the responsiveness of the applicant’s surveyor to required corrections, this process can take a few weeks,” Melody Mileur, the county’s communications officer, said. 

The airport’s status as a state-regulated project allowed commissioners to grant the city permission to complete the subdivision requirement after deeds are recorded, she added. 

The completed deeds to about 1,500 acres of land northwest of Williston will be sent to the FAA as proof that that phase of the project is now complete, and ready for reimbursement, Tuan said.  

City officials paid roughly $13.5 million for the property, which sits just off of County Road Seven. 

Negotiations with landowners wrapped up about two months ago, just before a groundbreaking in October at the future site of the Williston Basin International Airport, which is to take the place of the aging Sloulin Field International Airport. 

Although construction has not yet started on the $250 million relocation, bids on laying the terminal foundation, preliminary road construction and other leveling and dirt work have been awarded, and contractors are ready to start once the weather allows, Tuan said. 

Officials had hoped to start those projects in the fall, but delays in getting the deeds recorded forced the timeline back.


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