Sheriff’s Deputies To Replace National Guard At Airport

April 26, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — National Guard personnel will be pulling out of their posts at passenger screening checkpoints at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport by May 9, and the airport will have to shell out nearly $700,000 to cover the cost of additional law enforcement officers to take their place.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the new agency that took over airport screening operations on Feb. 19, has ordered that all the nation’s airports provide law enforcement officers at checkpoints beginning May 10.

But Ford International’s existing law enforcement staff only has the capacity to cover one of the airport’s two checkpoints — and coverage of just one will require overtime, said Rob Benstein, operations director.

TSA can’t provide the officers to man screening checkpoints so it has to contract with another law enforcement agency for coverage of the remaining checkpoint, he said.

The Kent County Board of Aeronautics approved two agreements Wednesday, one with TSA to contract for coverage of one of the two checkpoints from April 25 through Nov. 30, 2003, at an estimated cost of $698,825, and another with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department for the officers to handle the job.

The estimated cost of the agreement with the Sheriff’s Department is $368,415.

The Department of Aeronautics may be reimbursed on a monthly basis for the duration of the agreement, Benstein said, but the amount of the monthly payment is still in question.

The agreement states that the federal government “agrees to reimburse or partially reimburse” the cost of the law enforcement officers.

Aeronautics Director James Koslosky said thus far the airport has only been reimbursed for 50 percent of its current ongoing costs for federally mandated security measures.

“Most of us felt up front that there was a commitment by Congress and TSA to fully reimburse us. Those funds have yet to be appropriated,” he said.

“But we had no choice; we were issued a directive under federal law that we have to comply with whether we get reimbursed or not — or we face the loss of air service.”

The board accepted an FAA grant of $689,309 last week, which was half of the reimbursement amount the airport applied for to cover expenses incurred for additional security measures federally mandated after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Costs included personnel expenses for law enforcement officers to monitor vehicles and security guards to conduct vehicle inspections for short-term parking, and the purchase of traffic control devices, as well as equipment for the gate and entrance guard buildings.

The Department of Aeronautics had requested $1.3 million in reimbursement. Acceptance of the grant doesn’t waive the department’s right to go after the remainder of the incurred cost, Facilities Director Gerald Lovell pointed out.

Koslosky said airport officials will be meeting with airport tenants in early May to discuss rate adjustments this year to account for the revenue shortfall.                     

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