Hurricane-hammered airports in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas are getting some federal help in paying for needed repairs. President Bush signed a bill on Oct. 7 that widens the range of construction at those airfields that are eligible for Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program grants through fiscal 2006. It also lets them use AIP aid for emergency operating costs. Moreover, through 2006 it waives AIP’s nonfederal matching share, which is 25% for large airports and 5% for small ones.

The legislation, which the House passed Oct. 6 by 420-0 and the Senate cleared Sept. 28, "sort of jump-starts the rebuilding process," says Brad Van Dam, Airport Legislative Alliance staff vice president. For area airports, "That ought to be welcome news," he adds.

AIP’s main use is for runway and taxiway work but it also can finance terminals and buildings for rescue, firefighting and snow-removal equipment, says Barry Molar, manager of FAA’s airport financial assistance division. House aviation subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) says the new law will "temporarily broaden the eligible uses of existing...AIP funds, so that the full spectrum of hurricane repair costs can be met." That includes hangars and other buildings and emergency expenses, such as generators.

Mica says hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit more than 40 airports, causing damages that FAA estimates at $160 million. Mica says FAA already has sent $47 million in 2005 emergency aid to those airfields. The new legislation will provide the flexible funding through fiscal 2006, which began Oct. 1.

Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), an architect of the bill, says the 100% federal funding is important. State and local governments in the region "are cash-strapped, and some municipalities are destroyed," Lott says. "This bill takes considerable pressure off local taxpayers at a time when it’s needed most."

For Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the new law will be an immense help, says spokeswoman Michelle Duffourc. The airport sustained $55 million in damages and has "an eight-page laundry list" of repairs, she says. With daily departures there down to about 25 from 174 before Katrina, officials estimate it will lose $70 million in revenue over the next 16 months. Half the airport’s staff was laid off on Oct. 7.

Damage costs at Mississippi’s Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, are "in the tens of millions," says Director Bruce Frallic. It needs to replace a cargo facility and rental car service center that were destroyed. "We couldn’t do it without [the new law]," he says. "With it, we’re going to recover quickly."

Contracts: Agencies Clarify Bid Bond Requirements
Construction and surety officials are pleased with a change in federal bid bond regulations. In a rule published in the Federal Register Sept. 30, federal acquisition councils said agencies now will accept a copy, including a fax, of an original power of attorney to support a bid bond. The Associated General Contractors, insurance and surety groups sought the change. There had been conflicting General Accounting Office and Court of Federal Claims decisions, says Connie Lynch, National Association of Surety Bond Producers’ government affairs director. GAO decisions were seen as requiring an original power of attorney. Lynch says that "was very costly to everyone concerned," prompting overnight mail or airline trips to hand-deliver documents with ink signatures.

Energy: House Bill Aids Refineries
The House has approved, but narrowly, a bill that seeks to expedite regulatory approvals for new refineries. The Gasoline for America’s Security Act, which squeaked through the House Oct. 7 by a 212-210 vote, would require federal agencies to coordinate environmental and other reviews for planned new refineries if a governor requests it or if the project would be on federal land.

Industry praised the "GAS" bill but environmental groups criticized it. Before the House vote, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) deleted industry-backed provisions dealing with Clean Air Act "New Source Review" requirements for refineries, powerplants and other facilities. There has been no Senate action yet on refinery legislation, but hearings are possible the week of Oct. 17, according to a lobbyist.

Corps: 44 Senators Ask Frist for WRDA Floor Action
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and 43 colleagues have asked Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) to start floor debate on a new Water Resources Development Act. Inhofe and the othrs say Hurricane Katrina shows the need to upgrade flood control structures. In April Inhofe’s panel cleared a bill with about $11.7 billion for Corps of Engineers projects. The House passed its version in July.

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski