Press-Republican

October 3, 2013

Clinton County goes ahead with airport expansion plans

JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators have pulled the trigger on a major expansion at Plattsburgh International Airport.

“If building the airport was a home run then this is the grand slam,” Legislator Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) said at Wednesday night’s Finance Committee meeting.

“When you see this in the context of the future of the county, you will know that people want more destinations and you have to figure which plan is more likely to get us there.”

McManus and all nine of his fellow legislators agreed to go forward with a $54.93 million project that will expand the terminal to 115,000 square feet, which is about triple the current size.

The larger terminal will be able to handle up to 308,540 enplanements per year by 2030. It would include four jet bridges and seven ticket counters. The parking area would increase from about 2,000 spaces to about 4,000.

The airport opened in 2007 on the flight line of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. It has done great business ever since, offering direct flights to the southern United States, the Caribbean and Las Vegas.

Daily service to Boston and back is also offered.

This year, more than 150,000 passengers are expected to come through the terminal, which was designed to handle about 31,500 per year. At times, as many as 600 people are crammed into a terminal that was built to accommodate about 300 people.

The significant growth prompted legislators to agree last year to undergo an expansion.

They quickly dismissed a $40 million option that would get the terminal up to the size it needs to handle the amount of passengers they have now.

They also considered a plan that would allow for 225,000 enplanements by 2020 at a cost of $46.47 million.

But in the end, legislators agreed that a smaller expansion might leave them in the same position in a few years of having to expand again.

“It appears to me that the option of fully building out the airport makes more sense,” John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) said.

Gallagher added that if the Legislature decided not to do the largest expansion now, costs would go way up for another expansion in a few years.

Sara Rowden (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh), who chairs the Finance Committee, said the expansion design plan will allow for even more growth down the road if it is necessary.

Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona) said that with the prospect of a hotel being built at the nearby former Alert Facility property, the airport seems poised to continue its growth.

“Let’s go for the gold,” Beach said.

To pay for the expansion, the county will use the $4.50 fee that is attached to each ticket sold at the airport. It will also use revenue from parking.

Parking fees will go up from $5 per day for short term and $7 per day for long term to $8 per day for all vehicles.

Using that model, the airport should bring in a surplus of $23.2 million by 2030, which will pay for operating expenses.

Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) said what convinced him to support the major expansion was the fact that it will be paid for without using taxpayer money.

“That’s the deal maker for me,” he said.

Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the Airport Committee, said the expansion will help the county market more airlines.

“We have no room to grow now so we have to do something like this to bring in more carriers,” Heins said.

“This will help the entire region, not just Clinton County. We will be bringing in people from Essex and Franklin counties as well as Quebec and I think we will all see the benefits of that.”

Work on the expansion is expected to get underway next spring and will take about a year.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com