In a surprise twist, the full City Council is expected to discuss the City’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Edgemoor to construct a new single terminal airport a week ahead of schedule.
Heading into the December 7 Airport Committee meeting, Chair Jolie Justus had planned on holding the ordinance in committee for a second week, before presenting the legislation to the full Council on December 21. Third District Councilman Quinton Lucas argued in favor of pushing the MOU forward to the full City Council, and fellow 3rd District Councilman and committee co-chair Jermaine Reed agreed.
Though the Dec. 7 vote wasn’t necessarily planned, Justus said after the meeting that the decision to move forward likely won’t demonstrably alter the proposed timeline.
“Realistically what will happen is, we will have a Business Session on the 14th about this, and then any changes that come from that, I’m hoping, would then go to folks to negotiate,” Justus said. “Then we’ll have a final vote on the 21st.”
Still, Justus added that there are concerns as the Council grapples with the MOU.
“Here’s what we can’t do: we can’t get into a situation where the council makes changes to the MOU or the ordinance that we vote on immediately without going back to the airlines and the developer to make sure they have agreed to those things,” Justus said.
As part of the MOU, Edgemoor has agreed to establish a Construction Workforce Program, and has also committed to a 35% participation goal for minority and women-owned businesses in both the construction and design elements of the project. Councilman Reed suggested that the MOU’s focus on local businesses and community benefits were essential to his support of the agreement.
“As I have expressed previously, it is very important to me that the developer exceeds the MBE/WBE participation goals for the design and construction of the project, as well as the workforce goals,” Reed said. “My role is as an advocate for MBE/WBE businesses and our local workforce, and I intend to work hard to set the bar high so that our participation and workforce goals are exceeded.”
Some Council members expressed concern that the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which represents an overall value of around $10 million, is expected to be funded through airport revenues. Because of that funding mechanism, the CBA will need to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Fifth District Councilman Lee Barnes, who is not a member of the Airport Committee, provided public testimony that advocated for more direct funding of the community benefits.
“I simply say, we just need Edgemoor to write checks to these funds. If those things are done prior to us having an airport agreement, I don’t think the FAA would have any concern,” Barnes said. “So I don’t think there’s much concern about how we do these community benefits, unless we’re trying to use airport revenues to get that done.”
Lucas expressed similar concerns, wondering whether the airlines and regional flying public shouldn’t be receiving the lion’s share of the credit for the Community Benefits Agreement.
“Maybe others will see it a different way, but it seems as if the way that they’re structuring this deal, the money is coming from airport revenue,” Lucas said.
The MOU includes a clause that allows both sides to terminate the agreement, given certain circumstances. On the city’s end, termination could be triggered if the project is subject to a legal challenge, if the project adversely impacts the City’s bonding capacity, if the developers fail to perform their contracted duties, or if the developer’s proposal is proven to be false in any way. Edgemoor can terminate the MOU if the City fails to negotiate in good faith on transaction documents, or if the City materially breaches the terms of the MOU.
Lucas spoke with the Northeast News after the meeting to explain the rationale behind pushing the MOU ordinance forward. Essentially, Lucas didn’t want to ask the rest of the Council to simply rubber stamp an ordinance that had been carefully crafted by a committee.
“My view is, I think there are a lot of Council members who will have some serious questions about the path we’re going on in other things,” Lucas said. “I think it’s better if we have the full collaboration sooner.”
History has shown that the Council can bear down under the pressure of a hard and fast deadline. With the G.O. Bond conversation in early 2017, the Council overcame what appeared to be significant differences as the deadline loomed to submit ballot language for the April 2017 election. The Council found similar late success as it worked to finalize ballot language for the November airport election.
With that in mind, Lucas said the Council will work diligently to find consensus on the language within the MOU in the next few weeks.
“I think everybody is working right now to make sure that this gets done sooner rather than later,” Lucas said.