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Williston confident they’ll still get state money for new airport

WILLISTON, N.D. -- Legislators voted down a bill this week that would have set aside millions promised by the state to Williston’s new airport, but city officials say the defeat isn’t likely to mean disaster for the project as it may be reconsidered later in the session.

House Bill 1366, which outlined the distribution of oil tax revenue to cities and towns in the state’s oil-producing western region, included $40 million for construction of the Williston Basin International Airport.  The money was the final portion of the state’s contribution to the $250 million airport relocation. The project has already received $19 million from the state as part of an agreement to cover 25 percent of the costs.

The distribution bill failed Tuesday in the state House, with a 37-54 vote.

“It’s a disappointment; we were really hoping the Legislature would maintain the commitment written into the previous (bill),” Williston city administrator David Tuan said. “It was in our best interest to have it allocated early and directly.”

Still, while local officials were among those hoping for a different outcome, Tuan maintains that the bill’s halt doesn’t necessarily create a scramble to cover costs, and that state money could from a variety of sources, including grants, or be disbursed over a longer period of time than previously expected.

Construction is scheduled to start this spring on land northwest of Williston that city officials purchased last year from private landowners. Federal grants worth $54 million have already been administered, and negotiations are ongoing with the Federal Aviation Administration for additional money, Tuan said.