The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Summer airport project to proceed; future of EAS funding uncertain



Bessemer — Gogebic County Board of Commissioners members on Wednesday authorized signing of a summer airport project resolution that won’t be affected by federal budget cuts.

The county board authorized its chairman, George Peterson, of Watersmeet, to sign an agreement between the Hunt and Mead firm and the county for the terminal apron rehabilitation project at the Gogebic-Iron County Airport in Ironwood Township.

A resolution was presented to the board by airport manager Mike Harma.

Commissioners said the money for the project comes through the state and is not subject to federal budget cuts.

After the project was funded, it was delayed last year.

Regarding the potential of cuts in Essential Air Service funding for the airport, county board member Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, said it’s not the first time the county has faced a threat of elimination of EAS funding for air service.

“We’ve been down that road before. We survived last time,” he said, referring to the last effort by small airports to keep the funding and efforts to cut the program that date to 2004 and 2011.

Bonovetz noted the cutbacks in president Donald Trump’s budget are proposals, and are not items that have been passed.

Air Choice One currently provides passenger service at the Gogebic-Iron Airport to Chicago and Minneapolis. It was first granted a two-year EAS contract in 2014 by the federal Department of Transportation and later extended.

Last June, ACO was re-selected by the federal DOT to provide EAS from Ironwood through July 2020, using nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft to Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The annual subsidy to ACO begins at $3.3 million and increases to $3.6 million in 2020.

Gogebic County is far from alone in facing the EAS cuts.

The EAS program is also in place at Upper Peninsula airports in Chippewa County, Delta County, Dickinson County and Houghton County.

It’s estimated that cutting the nearly 40-year-old EAS program would save $175 million a year under current spending levels.

Proponents of the EAS program say small airports are necessary to promote local business and development and without air service, local economies will suffer.

While Bonovetz appeared optimistic that the board could fight to retain the EAS funds that keep flights coming and going at the airport, Jim Finley, of the Gogebic County Soil Conservation District, didn’t sound as optimistic.

Finley noted funding for the Great Lakes Initiative is in jeopardy and that could affect the conservation district funds. He referred to two grants that the Gogebic district had received as possibly being eliminated.


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