GARY | The Gary Airport Authority approved the terms of a 40-year privatization deal by a 5-1 vote Monday, but final approval of the pact will have to wait until at least Jan. 27.
The board's vote gives preliminary approval to a deal hammered out between a public-private partnership committee and Aviation Facilities Co. Inc., or AFCO, of Dulles, Va. A public hearing on the proposal will take place in January and the authority could take a final vote on the deal at its Jan. 27 meeting.
Before voting on the deal, some board members expressed concerns. But only Authority President Tom Collins Sr., who was appointed by Gov. Mike Pence, followed through on those concerns by voting against it.
"I'm not convinced this agreement is the best we can do as a board," Collins said just before the vote. "I think the city of Gary, this airport, and all of Northwest Indiana deserve better."
Authority member Denise Dillard said she agreed with Collins that the deal gave rise to some concerns.
"But doing nothing is also a problem for me as a board member," she said. "If not the P3 (public private partnership), then what?"
Under the terms approved Monday, AFCO is required to attract $25 million in investment to the airport in the first three years. If that investment is not there by that time, the Airport Authority can cut the length of the agreement in half. If the investment is still not there by the fifth year, the authority can terminate the deal.
By the end of its first year, AFCO is required to present the airport with a 10-year master plan for the airport aimed at attracting $75 million more in investment during the deal's 40-year term.
Terms of a 10-year contract with AFCO for managing the airfield also were approved with the same vote Monday.
Asked about his objections after the meeting, Collins said his main concern revolved around the fact AFCO does not have to come up with a long-term plan for developing the airport until 12 months after the authority approves the deal.
"I bring a business perspective to the board, and I wouldn't embark on a deal with a business partner until we had a plan," he said.
Under reform legislation proposed in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, the Airport Authority's chairman was to have been an appointee of the governor and given "super-majority" status, meaning he could essentially veto any board action.
The legislation in its final form assigned the governor the right to appoint the authority's chairman, but it stripped the post of its super-majority powers.
The authority also approved the hiring of Lee Lane, of the law firm Genetos, Retson, & Yoon LLP, to serve as airport attorney. She will replace Patrick Lyp, who is leaving the post to serve as city of Valparaiso attorney.
Lane is no relation to Gary Airport Interim Director B.R. Lane.
Consultant John Lukas of AECOM, which is in charge of the airport's $166 million runway expansion project, reported on some of the costs involved in the extensive environmental cleanup that is still needed.
The authority approved spending $370,000 on the removal of 16,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated soil and other environmental hazards found upon excavation of the expansion area. It also approved $350,000 in spending to remove 7,000 feet of metal pipes and oil sludge.