The grant, which the city was awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation in August, would support air carriers in the early stages of operation to help ensure their long-term sustainability.
In its grant application, the city identified its target destinations as Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
The Salem City Council authorized the Salem Municipal Airport to apply for the federal Small Community Air Service Development Grant in December 2021. On August 3, USDOT notified the airport it had been chosen for the award.
Now, it’s up to city councilors to decide if it wants to accept the award.
The $850,000 grant would provide about 70% of the funds needed to launch the project and the city would be required to provide $350,000 in matching funds, the remaining 29.17%. If the community’s local matching funds fall short of the $350,000, the grant will cease and be returned to USDOT.
According to the city, Travel Salem will be the fiduciary agent for the reimbursement of local matching funds.
At a city council meeting Monday, counselors heard comments on the action item.
Kevin Mannix, a Salem attorney, spoke strongly in favor of supporting the development grant. He pointed out that Salem is only one of a handful of U.S. state capitals that does not have an airport that offers commercial flights.
He said this would be a positive opportunity for state lawmakers and the public, and could create more tourism opportunities in the mid-Willamette Valley.
“These folks are going to travel by air anyway and the question is whether or not they have 120 miles round trip to go to Portland or 120 miles round trip to go to Eugene,” he said.
Phil Carver, co-coordinator of the climate justice group 350 Salem OR, was the second person to provide public comment on the grant. He said his group is not opposing the federal funds, but asked city councilors to take a close look at the potential financial risks of such a large investment and to do thorough research before fully committing to it.
“Looking at not just the passage of Salem, but of other cities, and how well does this process work out of small cities putting their neck out and getting a new commercial air service?” he said.
He also requested the city perform a greenhouse gas emissions study to determine what the long-range impacts of commercial air service in Salem would be.
If Salem city councilors decide to move forward with the grant matching, the grant must be signed and returned to USDOT by September 30.