City council seeks to fill airport with Ravn replacement

Emergency ordinances for airport lease, COVID-19 response, pass at meeting

The Homer Airport terminal has sat empty of activity since Ravn Alaska went under amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Homer City Council made a move to change that this week.

Members of the council voted to approve two emergency ordinances at their Monday meeting — one that authorizes the city manager to negotiate a contract with the company that bought Ravn Alaska’s core assets, and another appropriating money from the city’s general fund to pay for continued COVID-19 response and mitigation. The second of these two emergency ordinances drew debate among the council members, and was ultimately amended to allocate less funding than originally asked for in the ordinance.

The first ordinance authorizes negotiations for a terminal lease at the Homer Airport with Float Shuttle, the Southern California company which bought the core assets of Ravn Alaska after the in state commuter air service declared bankruptcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Float Shuttle bought six Dash-8 planes that were once used by Ravn, Corvus and PenAir.

According to the ordinance passed at Monday’s meeting, Float Shuttle now holds the Federal Aviation Administration certificate for air travel between Anchorage and Homer. The ordinance allows Homer’s city manager, Rob Dumouchel, to negotiate for a sole-source terminal lease with Float Shuttle.

“The lack of commercial passenger air service has negatively impacted those needing travel for medical needs, employment, commerce, and economic development, all of which are critical to the best interest of the public,” the ordinance text reads.

The city is also losing revenue every day the terminal sits without a leasing tenant. The ordinance text notes that there is “only one likely bidder” for the Homer terminal.

At the beginning of Monday’s council meeting, Peggy Swisher, the Ravn Alaska Homer station manager, spoke in favor of negotiating to fill the airport lease.

“I think it’s essential for us to be there in the terminal as soon as possible,” she said. “We are working with the FAA; the flight schedule should be approved here shortly.”

Swisher pointed out that with winter comes icy roads and dangerous driving conditions, at which point some people may prefer to fly to Anchorage rather than drive.

“It will be good for the economy,” she said. “It’s getting employees back to work that are eager.”

Director of Airports for Ravn Dallas Anthony also wrote a letter in support of the ordinance to the council.

“Ravn Alaska is excited to provide safe and reliable airline service to Homer again,” Anthony wrote in the letter. “We are also excited to be able to bring back all the employees that were laid off by Ravn Air Group.”

The second emergency ordinance approved at Monday’s meeting will appropriate $620,000 for purchasing equipment and services needed for ongoing mitigation of the pandemic.

The ordinance had originally sought to appropriate more than $1.18 million for purchases of equipment and software needed to continue mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The purchase requests range from things like software for online registration for the Community Recreation Department and power load patient lift systems for two Homer Volunteer Fire Department ambulances, to a portable disaster response shelter and upgraded technology for the Homer City Hall council chambers to make virtual council meetings more accessible.

HVFD Chief Mark Kirko is the incident commander for the city during the pandemic, and he explained to the council that CARES Act funds have to be spent by the end of the year. He said these purchase requests were requested at this time because the city will likely have a hard time purchasing some of the items — municipalities all over are all trying to purchase similar COVID-19 mitigation items. The purchases are all eligible to be reimbursed by CARES Act money, but Kirko said the sooner the city can get to work on obtaining the necessary equipment, the better the chances that the city will actually be able to get them in time.

“The most recent guidance from the U.S. Treasury on what is considered an incurred cost is that if you have a contract with a supplier or a vendor for materials or services for installation, that the federal government is recognizing there are slowdowns with delivery of goods and things because of COVID,” said Jenny Carroll, special projects and communications coordinator. “And that as long as the material or the service was deemed needed for COVID response before Dec. 30 … as long as it’s a need now … if you have an agreement with a vendor … it’s an eligible cost and it’s been incurred in the performance period for COVID-19 CARES Act funds.”

Some council members expressed concern at having to approve such a large sum of money on such a quick timeline. Council member Rachel Lord sought to schedule a public hearing for the ordinance to give it more time, but emergency ordinances have to either be passed, passed and amended, or voted down.

Emergency ordinances require unanimous votes at the city council.

“My druthers are to get something passed tonight and then see what else we might be able to do with a regular ordinance in the future,” said council member Donna Aderhold.

Council member Heath Smith amended the ordinance to remove several of the purchase requests, including requests iPads for Community Recreation. Also removed was one of the two CPR machines and one of the two patient lift systems requested by the fire department. Smith also struck a requested overhead projector and medical training simulation program from the fire department’s request list, as well as the portable disaster response shelter and the requested repeater, base station and portable radios requested for the Homer Harbor.

Still included on the purchasing list are electronic pay kiosks for campgrounds, the airport and the RV Dump Station; mobile radios for the harbor; the cost of remote internet for Community Recreation along with software for online registration, a breathing air compressor for the fire department, and equipment and software for the Emergency Operations Center, among others.

After Smith’s amendment reducing the spending allocation to $620,000 passed, the council voted unanimously to approve the emergency ordinance.

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