TARGET 8: Airport board members say they weren't looped in on $30 million terminal decision
COLUMBIA - For those who have traveled through Columbia Regional Airport, it’s no doubt the small airport built in the 1960’s is in need of a new terminal.
However, the process on where to build the new terminal has taken three years, an enormous amount of taxpayer money and mixed reviews from some interested parties.
“It’s time we stop playing Mickey Mouse games and we be open with the public,” said frequent traveler and Airport Advisory Board member Mark Winter. Last year, Winter traveled nearly 200 times through COU on business trips and is now frustrated with the lack of “openness” throughout the process.
Taxpayers fund pricey consultant findings
In 2015, Columbia city council paid engineering company Parsons Brinckerhoff $866,435 to develop a terminal area master plan and provide six possible location sites for a new terminal. MoDOT reimbursed the city for 90 percent of the cost.
After months of surveying the land, the consultants recommended the new terminal to be built on a site northwest of the current terminal, called Alternative Site #2.
Although it was the most costly option at $38 million, it wouldn’t disrupt parking, would have the least environmental impact and offer the most flexibility for future needs, according to the report.
City leaders toss out expert report without consulting board members
Last December, city leaders put aside the expert findings from Parsons Brinckerhoff and came up with a new, "seventh site," one not even considered by the consultants, in order to expedite the building process.
“We want to use existing infrastructure out here to save on cost,” said airport manager Mike Parks. “We’re looking at timing and cost as one of the biggest decisions.”
Unlike the north site, the new, south site is estimated to cost around $30 million but would require a hangar to be dismantled, eliminate hundreds of free parking spots during construction and relocate tenants and a surrounding federal support building.
Parks said the decision-making process to move from the Alternative Site #2 to the south side was a “collaborative effort,” but that’s not what board member Mark Winter said.
“We weren’t really told about it, as a member of the airport board, it’s never really been told to us," Winter said.
According to council notes, the current chair of the airport advisory board, Brian Whorley, was consulted before the announcement last fall.
But members Joe Henderson, BJ Hunter and Greg Cecil also confirmed with KOMU 8 News the airport board was not consulted. The board is an advising body and doesn’t vote on decisions; however, its purpose is to represent community interests and provide input.
At that December announcement, the city did not have a master plan in place and more recently was unable to provide specific estimates on enplanements, parking, number of gates or terminal design for the proposed site until the “due diligence” and environmental survey is completed, according to Parks.
Columbia community relations person Steven Sapp said, “Keep in mind this report is just a professional report that provided us with alternatives.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated growth at the airport would need to accommodate at least 120,000 departures a year and more than 1,200 parking spaces. According to Sapp, passenger usage is already surpassing those 2016 estimates. However, the proposed site doesn't provide specifics about whether it would be able to accommodate the expected growth.
More construction beyond the new terminal is a possibility with no clear timeline
“When we design the terminal, it will be designed for future expansion. We have to look at future expansion. Nobody expected us to, but we’ve already exceeded our enplanement numbers,” Sapp said. He also said more construction in addition to the new terminal is a possibility down the line.
The timeline still remains unclear on when construction will break ground or when the Federal Aviation Administration will approve the new site. Another $2.5 million in state money is expected to go toward the terminal project.
In the meantime, Winter said more parties should be involved and suggested the idea of creating an “airport authority.”
“Maybe it’s time we take it out of the control of the city of Columbia and put it into the control of an airport authority, regionalizing it between Columbia, Jefferson City, maybe even taking Callaway County in, so you have three counties that contain the airport authority that handles all the airports,” Winter said.
The board is expected to meet Thursday to discuss ongoing plans.