By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times staff writer
NEW BEDFORD — The City Council set the city on the runway to an improved airport last night, but chose not to rev its engines too quickly.
The council’s Finance Committee (a committee of the entire council) approved $1.1 million in bonding authority for a new hangar for the Delta flight school. The committee, however, chose not to bond a second $1 million for a hangar for Cape Air or some other small airline carrier that might be interested.
The council, sitting in formal session later in the evening, also gave final approval to the deal.
Mayor Scott W. Lang had asked the council for $2 million for both hangars, but said afterwards he was satisfied with the compromise.
The vote followed a closed-door session at which councilors discussed with City Treasurer Daniel W. Patten and members of the New Bedford Airport Commission negotiations with private carriers that might be interested in leasing the hangars.
Councilors wanted concrete information about whether the private parties had committed to leases that would provide enough money to pay off the bonds. But James Burgess, chairman of the airport commission, said it would be inappropriate to discuss the details in public.
No councilor made a public statement about the pros or cons of Mayor Lang’s proposal, but Mr. Burgess, the longtime chairman of the commission, hinted that the city might lose the Delta Connection Academy (which is affiliated with Bridgewater State College) if it did not act.
“It’s kind of detrimental if we don’t move forward on this,” he said.
Mr. Burgess later told The Standard-Times that the Delta school currently has 200-plus students and is looking to expand. Airlines are increasingly relying on private flight schools for their pilots, he said.
“I think it’s terrific. Now the academy is going to be able to expand,” he said.
One person who didn’t think it was terrific was Doris Cunningham, the longtime owner of Colonial Air Inc. She acknowledged to the paper that she was disappointed but declined further comment.
The private airplane maintenance company had hoped to build the hangar on city-owned land, but Mayor Lang decided he wanted the city to build the facility itself.
The mayor has said the hangar will help the municipal airport (which is currently operating at a loss) break even. But Ward 1 Councilor Linda Morad has questioned whether the city might be saddled with other costs down the line associated with things such as maintenance.
The council vote was 8-2 with Councilors David Alves and John T. Saunders voting against it after the second million was jettisoned.
Councilor Jane Gonsalves, who was absent during the vote, supported the one-hangar compromise in the final vote.
Councilor Saunders told The Standard-Times he did not think the numbers added up.
“It was a 10-year deal and I don’t think they could pay off the debt service,” he said.
He was also concerned that the city does not yet have a signed agreement with Delta, he said.
Mayor Lang said he was satisfied with the vote and that, when the city works out a lease arrangement with Cape Air (or some other airline), he will come back to the council for the second hangar.
“I think it’s a great economic development project that’s going to secure the Delta training school,” he said. “I appreciate the council’s vote on this and we’ll move forward.”
City officials released no numbers about the income stream for the bond last night beyond $80,000 per year the academy is currently paying to lease the former plumber’s building as a training center. But Mayor Lang said he believes Delta has committed to enough revenue to make the deal work.
“My understanding is the income stream can, in fact, pay for the bond-plus,” he said.
He said he is looking forward to discussions with neighborhoods adjacent to the airport about how the airport can more effectively function at its present size.
Contact Jack Spillane at email@example.com
Date of Publication: December 12, 2006 on Page A05