12:15 AM PST on Wednesday, December 22, 2010

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
The Press-Enterprise

At a special meeting convened early Tuesday morning, Inland officials voted to spend another $7.1 million to finish San Bernardino International Airport. And that isn’t likely to be the last they spend, airport officials said.

At least one board member of the Inland Valley Development Agency, which approved the expenditure, questioned the timing of the request.

Airport officials said contracts were coming due and companies needed to be paid. The airport’s developer, Scot Spencer, agreed but also said the majority of the $7.1 million, about 70 percent, is for work that hasn’t begun or been billed yet.

Norton Development Co., managed by Spencer, stands to earn 1.35 percent of all the contracts awarded, or about $95,850.

Making San Bernardino International Airport “airline ready” has cost taxpayers in cities surrounding the airport more than $100 million after the latest $7.1 million in spending was approved. The IVDA board is made up of representatives from San Bernardino County, San Bernardino, Colton and Loma Linda.

That doesn’t include the $100 million or so that the FAA, and federal Economic Development Agency and other agencies have provided in grants and matching funds, making the total cost to build an airport at the former Norton Air Force Base close to $200 million so far.

There are no regularly scheduled flights at the airport and no regular cargo operations.

The $7.1 million extra will pay contractors for work that had already been approved and funded based on early cost estimates, including $2 million for a freight building, $1.9 million for additional security features and another $287,796 for improvements to the passenger terminal, according to airport officials. The funding wasn’t broken down by individual contracts but by categories that include a project to build a kitchen for airlines to use.

As for the extra costs, in the case of a freight building, “we underestimated it to start with, probably,” said Bill Ingraham, aviation director at the airport.

“I knew it was a work in progress,” Fred Shorett, a San Bernardino councilman and alternate to the IVDA board, said during the meeting. As for the airline passenger terminal, “I thought that was done.”

Don Rogers, executive director of the IVDA and San Bernardino International Airport Authority, described airport improvements as an “ongoing but difficult” process.

Ingraham said the terminal was ready for an airline, but only one that didn’t carry any freight or serve any food, which doesn’t apply to very many, if any, airlines.

There were no dissenting votes for the funding approval. Shorett later said he was satisfied with the answers to his questions and supported the project.

Ingraham and Rogers, both consultants to the airport and IVDA, said there would likely be more requests for funding but this was “very nearly it.”

“We have built the minimum of what you have to have,” for a working airport that’s attractive to airlines, Ingraham said.

The funds are first put in the escrow account of a fund control manager, in this case First American Fund Control . The fund control agency audits the contracts and projects before it cuts any checks to contractors.

IVDA attorney Tim Sabo said after the meeting that bringing each individual project to the board for requests to increase funding, “would be too tedious for the board.”

Spencer, who also directs the entities that run the Million Air general aviation terminal, leases hangar space and manages the overall airport, said the funding was requested as a favor, of sorts, to contractors who had asked to be paid before the end of the year.

“It’s not necessarily past due, but some contractors have come to us and said ‘it would be very helpful to us if we’re paid this fiscal year,’ ” he said.

Spencer said contractors who could stand to benefit from the $7.1 million include Bogh Construction, based in Beaumont, which has been working on the terminal’s parking lot; V2, which is working on the freight building; and J.R. Miller & Co., the architect working on the flight kitchen.