Dukes County commissioners approve airport loan

Commissioners want continued transparency.

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Dukes County commissioners decide whether to approve a $420,000 loan for the MV Airport.

Updated July 2

The Dukes County Commissioners returned to a discussion concerning a request from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport to borrow $420,000 Monday evening.

The only item on the meeting’s agenda, the request had been tabled because no airport representatives appeared at the commissioners’ last meeting.

Martha’s Vineyard Airport manager Ann Richart and airport commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum met with the commissioners to discuss the request. The airport has received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which they will use to pay back the $420,000.

Richart said the loan would be for an environmental assessment, which would cover endangered species, architectural issues, freshwater issues, and noise issues, among other factors. The assessment is part of the airport master plan adopted a year and half ago by the airport.

Dukes County commissioners wanted to know what the airport is spending the money on, and how it would be paid back.

Gretchen Tucker Underwood, vice chairman, said the commission had already assured the loan for the airport, and was confused why it still needed to be voted on. “I asked, as we go forward, can we have transparency in how the airport is providing or how the airport comes up with these requests, and how they’re going to pay it back,” she said.

Commission chairman John Alley said the loan request was passed in a motion, but the commissioners did not sign off yet because they wanted to discuss it further.

Richart and Rosenbaum were asking for the loan because the airport needs to pay for capital investments first and then apply for the reimbursement from the government. Richart equated airport project funding to people buying a house — people will get a mortgage to pay off their house over time, rather than wait until they have a lump sum.

“Using debt financing is the smart way to continue to improve the airport rather than amassing a whole bunch of money beforehand and then doing the projects. Being able to finance the projects we do over the life of the project is the way a lot of businesses operate,” Richart said.

Commissioner Christine Todd said she appreciated the transparency the airport and the commissioners were having now. “I think that going forward we continue with this transparency knowing how you’re going to cover your end of all of this. Ultimately, the county is responsible.”

“The reason the banks are so willing to go make the loans [and] have very low rates is because these are no risk. The federal government is essentially behind them,” Rosenbaum said.

Commissioner Leon Brathwaite said he was not going to vote in favor of the loan “on principle.”

Richart said the federal grant would be coming back to the airport within three months once the project is completed. There would also be progress payments.

Commissioner Tristan Israel put forward a theoretical scenario in which the government does not give a grant to the airport. Richart said it would be “very dire” if the federal and state governments reneged on their grant offer, but the airport would have enough revenue to cover the loan.

The commission then approved a vote to sign off on the loan, with Brathwaite voting no and Alley abstaining. Alley told the Times he abstained because he felt the answers the airport gave were “not clear enough” for him to vote yes.

Updated to clarify that the airport already has received the grant. -Ed.