Airport board wants do-over on federal grant
The Grand Junction Regional Airport will change course on the building already under construction while also working to slow down the current pace of the project.
The board voted unanimously to turn back the federal grant already issued for the project and resubmit it with changes.
Grand Junction Mayor Sam Susuras voted with the other four board members who were present, despite arguing strenuously that the airport should proceed with the grant as it was awarded.
To do otherwise, Susuras said, would be to invite financial disaster.
“It could put the airport authority into bankruptcy and receivership if we pursue this action,” Susuras said during a special meeting of the airport authority board in Grand Junction City Hall.
The changes approved by the board include changing the description of the terminal building under construction to that of an administration and aircraft rescue and firefighting building.
The Federal Aviation Administration agreed to fund up to 65 percent of the $6.2 million building when it was called a terminal building. Changing the name of the building will reduce the amount of money the federal agency will contribute to the project.
The issue arose in November when the FBI raided the airport offices conducting a fraud investigation. The airport’s director of aviation, Rex Tippetts, was subsequently suspended and then, after a preliminary report on an internal investigation, was fired.
That caused airport officials to review many of Tippetts’ actions and conclude that the building was mischaracterized to federal officials.
About the same time the raid was conducted, the FAA changed the airport’s risk assessment for grant purposes from “nominal” to “moderate.”
Amy Jordan, the interim director of aviation, met with FAA officials earlier this month to discuss the way a space within the building was designated.
Federal officials welcomed action by the airport board to make the changes, including eliminating a reference to future baggage screening areas in the basement that officials said couldn’t feasibly be used for that purpose and an office for the nonexistent position of a duty officer in the fire department, Jordan said.
No federal money has been used so far on the construction project.
Worries about the extent to which the submissions to the FAA might constitute a fraudulent application are so far unfounded, Susuras said.
“It’s all hearsay,” Susuras said. “I see nothing fraudulent in them at all.”
What if the board made no changes? Susuras asked.
“You might find yourself in jail,” board member Tom Frishe said.
“I do see a substantial problem,” board member Rick Wagner said, who said the problems with the way the building was described were obvious. “That’s sort of like taking a fire truck and calling it a sports car,” Wagner said.
The airport’s future is in jeopardy, Susuras said, calling the previous board “visionaries” who were trying to expand the airport.” If this board doesn’t adopt that vision, this airport will fail,” Susuras said.
In the end, however, Susuras said he recognized he was making no headway with the other board members and cast his vote to change the building description, seek a new grant in the spring and try to work out an arrangement with the Shaw Construction, which is building the project, that could slow it down until different financial arrangements can be completed.
Susuras said he agreed to go along, so the project could move forward, but insisted the airport is spending unnecessarily on a Denver attorney and an internal investigation dealing with the raid.