OCEAN CITY — Last week’s shutdown and subsequent restoration of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not have any bearing on a planned runway rehabilitation project at the Ocean City Municipal Airport, but the project is being expedited to avoid potentially losing the federal funding.
Thousands of FAA workers and tens of thousands of construction workers across the country were put out of work during a recent two-week partial shutdown of the federal agency that ended last week.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Congress partially shut down the FAA during the stalemate over the debt-ceiling crisis and issued stop-work orders on thousands of ongoing FAA-funded airport construction projects around the country.
As a result, roughly 4,000 FAA employees across the country were furloughed and an estimated 74,000 construction workers were temporarily laid off while the airport projects they were working on were halted. Locally, the only pending airport construction project, a rehabilitation of the north-south runway at the Ocean City Municipal Airport, was not immediately affected, although the project has been put back on the fast track in an effort to avoid the federal funding that has been in place for nearly five years.
Nearly five years ago, the Ocean City Mayor and Council sold off a piece of FAA-owned property adjacent to the airport for $4 million. At the time, instead of the $4 million being transferred back to the federal government for use on other projects around the country, the money was set aside in an interest-gaining account held by the town of Ocean City for future airport projects.
Five years later, about $2.9 million of the original $4 million is left over and is being held in reserve for a major rehabilitation of the north-south runway at the Ocean City Municipal Airport. The project includes milling and resurfacing the runway, improving its lighting, adding signage and improving fencing for wildlife control.
However, as a stipulation of the sale of the municipal golf course property, the funding must be used by December of this year or risk being transferred back into the FAA coffers for redistribution for other airport construction projects around the country.
Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins said this week those funds are not in any jeopardy because of the FAA shutdown last week.
“Our project is fine for now,” he said. “Fortunately, we have the balance of the funds in a dedicated account that came from the sale and purchase of the golf course. That is what is paying for the majority of our effort.”
Adkins said the project plans are about 99 percent complete and are in the FAA’s hands for final approval. While the situation with the FAA will not have an immediate impact on the Ocean City Airport project, the town will have to expedite the approval and bidding process in order to avoid losing the funding for a different reason.
“Five years ago, when the golf course deal concluded, we were given five years to spend the money or risk losing it,” he said. “We have until Dec. 21 to get final approval for this project and get the bid process going. We’re under the gun a little now to get it moving.”
Adkins said the funding is not currently at risk because it has already been obligated for the Ocean City Airport project and is actually sitting in town coffers generating interest.
“We actually have the money,” he said. “We’re not hoping to get it or planning to get it. We already have it in place. We just have to get the project approved and put out to bid before the terms of the golf course sale expire.”
Adkins said the project will likely be put out to bid this fall far in advance of the expiration date. The project will likely be completed next spring.