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Burbank Airport Seeks to Keep Millions

Authority is hoping it can apply already-spent federal funds to newly approved projects.

May 13, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Burbank Airport officials on Monday approved several new projects to improve safety and reduce noise at the airport -- moves designed, in part, to avoid having to return more than $40 million in federal money that was earmarked for a new terminal.

The proposed projects include building a new "hush house" so that aircraft being repaired can rev their engines in an enclosed space rather than outdoors, as well as relocating a maintenance facility and part of a parking lot farther from the runway.

The backdrop for Monday's action by the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority was the continuing fight over whether to build a new terminal.

Underlying Monday's proposal, which would also designate 31 acres out of a 130-acre parcel as the future site of a new terminal, is some creative accounting. The airport bought the parcel using a mix of federal dollars and nearly $59 million of its own money.

But the new plan asserts that the 31 acres for the new terminal was paid with the airport's money, while the portion of the land for the new projects and other aviation uses was purchased with federal funds.

By making that designation, the Burbank Airport officials hope they can meet an FAA requirement that the federal funds be spent on aviation uses.

The projects under the plan, which is still subject to approval by the city of Burbank and the Federal Aviation Administration, are "an absolute legitimate use of airport funding. And that's an argument we will make," said the airfield's executive director, Dios Marrero.

FAA and Burbank city officials declined comment, saying they haven't seen the proposal. Airport officials will present the plan to the Burbank City Council tonight and to the FAA later this week.

Earlier this year, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said she was fed up with the impasse over the airport's new terminal project, which has been bogged down for years by lawsuits and political opposition, and demanded an accounting of how the airport used federal funds. Last week, Blakey ordered the airport to develop a repayment plan within 30 days because it had missed a deadline to develop a plan for a new terminal.

The ultimatum put commissioners in a quandary because they don't have the money. The airport has less than $40 million in reserves and is already facing financial woes because of plummeting parking revenues and rising security costs. The airport is currently cutting costs to avoid a $4.5-million budget gap next year.

Commissioners said their plan would improve safety, reduce noise for area residents, and show the FAA that the federal funds they have received are being responsibly used.

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