August 14, 2008

Westmoreland Airport Officials Eye Cheaper Natural Gas

By AJ Panian

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority is weighing a proposal from Dominion Peoples to provide natural gas to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport at a reduced price.

Authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo told the board Tuesday that the utility recently noted that the airport near Latrobe receives most of its supply from interstate pipelines connected to states as far away as Louisiana.

In the proposal, which would last one year, Dominion Peoples is guaranteeing access to the lowest-priced, in-state natural gas sources that the airport could access, Monzo said.

"Right now, we spend more than $12,000 a year in natural gas fees," Monzo said.

Dominion Peoples is forecasting a 5 percent decrease in gas costs at Arnold Palmer Regional in one year's time, or $600, and a 17 percent to 20 percent decrease in those costs after the first year, or as much as $2,400, Monzo said.

Such savings, combined with royalties collected from natural gas wells at Rostraver Airport, could help defray daily operational costs, Monzo said.

"Combined with the Rostraver gas well royalties and the ones we might get here (at Arnold Palmer Regional) if they punch one, access to the in-state gas could be a great benefit."

Dominion Peoples spokesman Elmore Lockley said making such offers to the company's industrial and commercial customers in relation to the transportation rate -- or the charge to deliver gas to the customer -- has become customary.

"This is something we've been doing in western Pennsylvania since the late 1970s," Lockley said. "It's what we'd call our transportation rate, or the charge to deliver gas to the customer. The benefit to the customer comes in terms of a lower and/or fixed rate."

Authority solicitor Don Snyder is reviewing the proposal, and the board should have a decision by its next meeting on Sept. 9.

The board also voted to accept a proposal from PNC Bank for a bond issue by which the authority would receive $3 million in net funding. The money would be used to match $1 million in state capital-improvement project grant funding for the L.J. Aviation expansion project and about $2 million from the Federal Aviation Administration's airport improvement program for other projects to be completed by 2013.

The board's decision is pending approval of the county commissioners.

The authority is also awaiting a final site check by Federal Aviation Administration officials of the Arnold Palmer Regional runway improvement project before officially declaring the project complete.

In other business, Arnold Palmer Regional placed 36th on a list of 57 passenger airports surveyed for 12-month passenger totals beginning March 31, 2007, by independent consultant Mead & Hunt. With 13,310 passengers reported during that time span, the airport experienced an 18.5 percent increase, said authority spokesman Dwayne Pickels.

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