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FAA cancels tower lease, but plans to stay

The Renton Municipal Airport tower. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
The Renton Municipal Airport tower.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

Last year, during the federal government sequestration, the City of Renton fought with the Federal Aviation Administration over keeping the Renton Municipal Airport tower open.

Funding was secured and the tower, which houses FAA air-traffic control staff, remained open.

But this spring, a new wrinkle has appeared as the FAA in January told the city it did not plan to renew its lease at the airport to pay for utilities and janitorial services at the tower, but planned to keep its employees working at the facility.

“We’re having a little disagreement,” said Airport Manager Ryan Zulauf this week.

According to Zulauf, the city owns the tower building, but the FAA has traditionally leased the space for its employees, which are provided by a private company. Instead, the FAA now wants a “tower operating agreement” under which the city pays for the services.

Zulauf said the airport does accept federal money and therefore agrees to provide space for federal facilities on site, including a weather station on the east side of the airport, but Zuluaf said that should not include the tower.

“Land is not the same thing as a building,” he said.

Zulauf said the city is looking to a similar situation in Lynchburg, Va., which “pushed back” against the FAA and was resolved with a new, three-year lease signed Dec. 23, 2013.

According to Lynchburg Regional Airport Director Mark Courtney, their situation was slightly different. Lynchburg agreed to pay to keep their tower open during the sequestration as the federal government worked out funding to keep the tower open. Then, his airport worked out a new lease with the FAA at their tower, but the city will pay for custodial and utility costs, which the FAA pays for space.

However, Courtney said language in the law states that airports do not have to pay for FAA space usage. But he also cautioned that all airport tower leases are different.

“If you’ve seen one airport lease, you’ve seen one,” he said.

The lease at Renton Municipal is worth about $28,000 per year to the city.

Calls for comment to the FAA’s Northwest Mountain region office were not returned in time for this story.

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