By Selwyn Harris
The Town of Pahrump lost another major federal grant due to inactivity, this time to the tune of $600,000.
The grant was part of about $1.1 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants earmarked for developing a general aviation airport in the valley. That project was started more than 25 years ago.
The FAA rescinded a $600,000 grant thanks to foot-dragging by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for completing a costly Environmental Impact Statement EIS , one of only a few major remaining hurdles to making the airport a reality.
The FAA’s Airport Improvement Program AIP grants were issued in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
“We are moving along, but the FAA is taking back the $600,000 grant that we have out there. We have two AIP grants. One we had for $500,000 and one was for $600,000. We are drawing down on the $500,000, but unfortunately the $600,000 grant has never been drawn down on and no work has been processed,” Town Manager Bill Kohbarger said.
He said the BLM has created a host of delays on the project. He added that the FAA acknowledged the problems associated with the airport are well beyond the control of the town.
“The BLM has been dragging their feet and not getting the phase II process moving on the Environment Impact Statement. Therefore, the FAA by their own standards requires that sponsors receiving AIP discretionary funds must commence work within six months of receiving those funds. We have not because the BLM has been dragging their feet so the FAA has taken it back. However, the FAA has assured us that the grant will be available to us at the next grant cycle later this year as long as everything goes smoothly,” he said.
Kohbarger also noted that the BLM has actually expressed interest in turning the proposed site into a conservation area, which may be one reason why the agency is stalling.
“I don’t know why the BLM would do that because they know we have been working on this for years. It doesn’t make sense for a federal agency to drag their feet for over six months that costs us a $600,000 grant but yet they did it. I will say it again: The reason why the grant was taken back was no fault of the town. It was because the paperwork that was sent off to the BLM did not get done. It was their responsibility to review a Memorandum of Understanding MOU , sign it and get it back to the FAA and to my knowledge they still have not done that,” he said.
Kohbarger pointed to an additional document the BLM appeared to have ignored that relates to the town’s Cost Recovery Account CRA .
He said that the paperwork for that matter still has not been processed as of yet due to internal matters within the agency.
“They had turnover in the Pahrump field office that may have caused a lot of that. They went through two different managers. They just recently got a new manager but she is in and out of the office due to leave she has to use coming from another department.
“Another individual took a temporary assignment at the state office and now it’s a permanent assignment, so there is a lot of turnover there. But it should not be an excuse as to why information and paperwork has not been processed,” he said.
Still, Kohbarger believes the agency had ample time to process all of the paperwork and submit it to the BLM.
“The MOU that the FAA is waiting on was started sometime in late 2011 and the CRA was approved by the town board in August or September. The paperwork was turned over and given to them immediately and they still haven’t done anything,” he said.
The town did receive a bit of good news just recently.
In a letter to Kohbarger, Manager Robin Hunt from the FAA’s district office in San Francisco said the agency is still behind the effort to bring an airport to the valley.
“The FAA will keep AIP Grant 4 open to continue funding for the EIS in 2013. Our goal is to close this grant by the end of August 2013. The FAA will unilaterally close AIP Grant 5 immediately for the mutual convenience of the FAA and the town. AIP Grant 4 will provide sufficient funds for any additional EIS work that is needed in 2013. We will continue to support the town’s efforts to develop the Pahrump Valley Airport and look forward to working with you on this project,” a letter from Hunt read.
As far back as 1987, a California-based company rendered a final site selection plan for a town airport, which is slated to be built on the far south end of the valley.
Calls placed to BLM officials for comment on the matter were not returned by press time.