Clinton County legislators are faced with a tough decision about just how much they want to expand the Plattsburgh International Airport terminal.
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Before them are three choices:
▶ Expand it to the point where it can handle the often overflowing crowds that gather now, at a cost of about $40 million.
▶ Expand to handle moderate growth over the next 16 years, at a cost of about $50 million.
▶ Expand to handle a much larger growth, at a cost of about $60 million.
“It’s a tough decision, and there are a lot of factors we have to weigh to make sure we get it right,” Legislator Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the county’s Airport Committee, told the Press-Republican.
TOO SMALL FROM START
The decision to expand the terminal was made last year as legislators looked for ways to alleviate complaints coming from travelers who found themselves, at times, packed in the space waiting for aircraft to unload passengers and then re-load.
The airport opened in 2007 on the flight line of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base and has since done substantial business.
The attraction of direct flights to tourist spots in Florida, South Carolina and Las Vegas has drawn many Canadian travelers. Locals are also setting off on vacations from Plattsburgh International and utilizing daily service to and from Boston.
The terminal was built mostly with federal funding, at a cost of more than $40 million. Critics have complained that it was made too small from the start, but the Federal Aviation Administration would not allow for a bigger facility, based on projections at the time.
But the number of travelers using the airport has far exceeded projections. This year, more than 150,000 passengers are expected to go through the terminal, which is designed for a maximum of about 31,500 people per year.
Airport Manager Chris Kreig said there are times, when flights are delayed, that more than 600 people are packed into a terminal designed for about 300.
“One delay can have a dramatic impact because they overlap flights,” he said.
LEAST COSTLY CHOICE
Legislators heard a detailed presentation on possible expansion plans from McFarland Johnson Inc., the project design firm, at a recent Airport Committee meeting.
Upgrading to the point where the airport can efficiently handle the crowds there now would cost $41.59 million.
Two more ticket counters would be added, and the terminal would be re-designed to move the stairs now at the back of the facility closer to the entrance to give easier access to Transportation Security Administration screening, which would be moved to the second floor.
A larger holding room and one more jet bridge for boarding and disembarking planes would be added, as well as a larger concession area and room for customs clearance, should the airport ever attract international flights.
Upgrading the terminal to handle slow growth over the next decade and a half would cost $50.74 million.
That plan would add two more jet bridges and three more ticket counters. The design would allow for as many as 225,000 enplanements per year by 2030.
The final option would allow for a conservative estimate of 308,540 enplanements by 2030, with that number leveling off after that.
That plan would call for a total of five jet bridges and up to seven ticket counters.
The parking area would be about doubled from the existing 2,000 spaces in all three options.
“We are aggressively looking to the future, and if we get another carrier in here, we don’t want to be in a position where we don’t have enough parking,” Kreig said.
COVERING THE COST
Funds to pay for the expansion would come from passenger fees, parking revenue and state and federal grants.
About 23.4 percent of the payments would come from the $4.50 passenger fee that is attached to each ticket sold at the airport.
Another 21.1 percent would come from an increase in parking revenue, as parking fees rise from $5 per day for short term and $7 per day for long term to $8 per day for all vehicles next year.
The federal government is expected to kick in about 14.5 percent and the state about 1 percent.
The Clinton County Legislature approved the borrowing of nearly $43 million to help pay for the project earlier this year.
Legislators will mull the options before making a choice later this summer or in the fall.
Legislator Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) said he is concerned that if the terminal is not expanded enough, major carriers will not be interested.
“If we reduce the level of service, it could hurt our chances of recruiting another carrier,” he said.
Legislator John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) said spending the extra money now might be worth it in the long run.
“For about $9 million more, we can get it taken care of,” he said.
Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) warned legislators that paying for the terminal is not the only cost to consider.
“We have to be concerned about operational costs,” he said.
“If we make it bigger, there is more space to heat and cool and to clean, and that costs money,” he said.
Heins hopes the construction estimates of $350 per square foot for the expansion can be lowered as the plans are given a closer look.
“We’re making this decision for the future, and we don’t want to end up with something that is too big and empty,” he said.
“We also don’t want to make the same mistake twice and be in a position where we have to expand again in a few years. But we don’t want to go too far, either.”
Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican