With the acceptance of about $2 million in additional grants, Ravalli County is ready to proceed with an expansion of the airport in Hamilton.
It's a big step, culminating decades of work to get the project underway.
In a low-key meeting on Monday, county commissioners took one of the biggest economic steps in the Bitterroot's recent history, accepting two more grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. That completes the funding package to expand the Ravalli County Airport, and do it without having to raise millions locally.
“Before we came into this supplemental funding and some of the CARES Act funding, we were expecting a 10% local match on a $15 million Airport Improvement Project. $1.5 million funded locally would have been difficult for us to do," Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows said.
Commissioners also inked the $12 million contract with S and K Construction to start work in a matter of weeks.
“So weather dependent, but hopefully we'll get some of that that dirt work going this fall and then hit it again this spring and I think we're planning on trying to get the runway done summer of ‘21," Burrows said.
It's a big upgrade. The runway will be extended to 5,200 feet, shifted north away from homes, and adding more room for hangers and improvements. That helps economic development, but also makes it safer for aircraft during fire season.
“And we're going to see more hangar capacity, more business capacity out there, along with the public safety aspect of it, being able to to get those fire suppression aircraft and helicopters off the ground safely," Burrows said.
While signing the agreement was a major accomplishment Monday, Burrows says it comes after a lot of hard work by many commissioners in the past and other community leaders over more than 25 years.
“It has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears by a lot of people and it started way before me, but you know, it's been a fun project, a difficult one," Burrows said. "But we're glad to see it come to fruition here."
The airport upgrade is also seen as a key piece to efforts to promote the "Targeted Economic Development District" for future business development on Hamilton's north side.