By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin could be on its way out of the federal government’s Essential Air Service subsidy program.
Airline service is doing so well now with American Eagle that the federal government could save more than $2.4 million a year by granting another contract to continue the existing flights, according to bid documents filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Steve Stockam, manager of the Joplin Regional Airport, will report to the Joplin City Council at its meeting tonight that the American Airlines subsidiary has filed a bid to provide Essential Air Service again to Joplin for a subsidy of $342,560 a year for two years. That is down from $2,778,756 per year for 2011 and 2012. It is the only bid submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation for Joplin’s air service from March 1, 2013, through Feb. 28, 2015.
“The last two years have been exceptional for Joplin air service,” Stockam wrote to the DOT about the bid. Stockam said American Eagle replaced a regional carrier, Great Lakes, that in 2010 carried 7,800 passengers in and out of Joplin. In the first year of American Eagle service, the passenger count multiplied to 53,000, according to Stockam.
With the proposed reduction in the subsidy amount, “Joplin is well on its way to attaining its goal of supporting subsidy-free air service,” Stockam wrote.
He will ask the council to approve an endorsement of the new bid for the DOT’s decision.
Joplin must agree to accept any type of 50-seat regional jet. “We do hope the carrier will ensure we receive as many 50-seat flights as possible in order to accommodate our growing traffic demand,” Stockam said in the letter.
Local officials also must agree that American could exit if need be, if it would submit a 120-day termination notice. That provision applied to the bid for the existing service.
Currently, all flights are to and from Dallas. Stockam said earlier this year that the passenger demand could result in asking American for flights to Chicago or some other large hub that could make connections faster to East Coast destinations.
It is the result that Joplin officials hoped to achieve with a brand-name carrier to a major hub.
“We’ve wanted to go to Dallas for a long time, and the last two years we’ve been working through the EAS system, American has been taking us to Dallas and it’s been working real well,” said David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director. “This would be a continuation of that program.”
With the passenger count improving that dramatically, Joplin could be close to climbing out of federally subsidized air service. “That’s always been our goal, and we’re working toward that goal,” Hertzberg said.
The Essential Air Service program was established in 1978 when the government deregulated the airlines. The subsidies are given to airlines to provide service to rural airports.
In other business tonight, city administrators will ask the council to approve a resolution that would allow the city to participate with other disaster-stricken cities in Missouri in applying for a Brownfields Assessment Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to city documents from Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources wants to apply for a grant from the EPA that would pay to assess and clean up any environmental hazards on commercial, city or school properties caused by natural disasters.
“The hope is that this potential barrier to redevelopment could be removed so development can more quickly occur,” if there is hazardous contamination as a result of damage from the May 2011 tornado, Pekarek wrote in a city memo. The DNR is asking several cities stricken by tornadoes and floods to apply as partners.
The EPA recently announced a $2.4 million grant for Joplin to continue the cleanup of residential yards from lead and cadmium contamination scattered by the tornado.
Also scheduled are public hearings on requests for zoning changes at 26th Street and Wall Avenue, Wildwood Ranch Parkway and John Duffy Drive, 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue, and 2023 S. Joplin Ave. The Zoning and Planning Commission has recommended approval of all the requests.
THE JOPLIN CITY COUNCIL meets at 6 p.m. today on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.