City/airport committee wants expansion project reviewed

2013-05-10T20:00:00Z 2013-05-12T00:42:07Z City/airport committee wants expansion project reviewedKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

A joint city/airport committee has recommended the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority hire a firm to perform a comprehensive review of its $166 million expansion project, which is scheduled for completion this year.

Peoples Bank CEO David Bochnowski has pushed for the hiring of a risk assessment firm to keep tabs on the project since being appointed to the Airport Authority board earlier this year. As chairman of the joint city/airport committee working to lure investors to the airport through a public-private partnership, he has continued to push for it.

"It's more than an auditor," Bochnowski said. "It's a total-risk assessment. They will deal with the integrity of the process and making sure there has been full compliance with all regulations."

The assessment firm hired will report directly to the seven-member Airport Authority Board rather than airport management, Bochnowski said at Friday's meeting of the joint city/airport committee at the airport. Bochnowski said that kind of arrangement is common in private industry.

It now will be up to the Airport Authority whether to accept or reject the proposal. It would have to find a means of paying for the service in a budget that is already under pressure from the expansion and other projects.

Seven years ago, airport officials estimated the expansion project's cost at about $90 million. By the beginning of 2011 they were pegging the entire cost at $128 million. Today the price tag is about $166 million, although the airport does not yet have a handle on the final costs for environmental cleanups.

Also at Friday's meeting of the joint city/airport committee, it also was resolved to formally notify the Federal Aviation Administration that the airport is seeking to form a public-private partnership.

“Our intent is to stay in constant communication with the FAA,” said airport consultant Al Stanley, a partner in JClark Aviation, the project manager for the public-private partnership.

The FAA has poured millions of dollars of taxpayer money into the airport over the years, so any privatization or long-term leases of airport property or facilities will have to comply with FAA regulations.

A new timeline for the project also was approved Friday. It calls for issuing a formal request for proposals for public-private partnerships as early as August. The joint city/airport committee would issue a final recommendation to the Airport Authority by the end of September or October.

The committee could end up submitting a list of investment groups as finalists, with the final decision of which one to pick left up to the Airport Authority.

Committee members emphasized Friday they want an open, transparent process that will attract the interest of as many investors as possible.

Bochnowski also told the committee that Mamon Powers Jr. has resigned his seat due to the possibility that conflicts of interest could arise if his firm, Powers & Sons Construction Co., seeks construction contracts at the airport.

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