Fueling Economic Development
USDA’s “REDL&G” Loans Will be Used to Build a Fuel Facility at Benson Airport
The city of Benson is constructing an aviation fuel facility at the Benson airport that represents one of the largest expansion projects there since the airport was built, thanks to two loans* from the Rural Economic Development Loans & Grants program that is administered by Arizona G&T Cooperatives/Arizona Electric Power Cooperative.
Once completed, the fuel facility is expected to produce a ripple effect in terms of even more economic development in the area, starting with an industry-related commercial business that’s expected to relocate to the airport once the facility is completed.
“The city of Benson will benefit a lot from the fuel sales, because we’ll have a reliable place for people to stop and get fuel; the city will have revenue from the fuel and the sales tax; it will create jobs,” said George Scott, executive director of the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group.
Scott was a liaison between the city of Benson and AEPCO as the project was developed and helped expedite the approval process that was required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees most federal rural economic development loan programs.
Currently, there are no fuel pumps at the airport, and the only way pilots can re-fuel their aircraft is by making an appointment to have a fuel truck meet them, a time-consuming process that results in “flyover” air traffic going to other airports where fuel islands, also called “fuel farms,” are available around the clock.
The lack of a fuel facility also discourages aviation industry-related businesses from locating at the Benson airport.
However, that could change quickly now that construction is getting underway, Scott said.
“As a matter of fact, Joe Konrad (Benson mayor) and I are working with a company that’s expressed an interest and all (company officials) are waiting for is a reliable fuel supply,” Scott said.
Benson city Mayor Joe Konrad confirmed what Scott said but wouldn’t discuss details of the business “at this point.”
“Yes, we are; there is a business that’s expressed a very keen interest in relocating in Benson and I see that as a bright spot in our future,” Konrad said.
“There’s no real details I can share on that right now. I can tell you there’s an RFP (request for proposal) in process that’s in the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and once we get back from them what we need we can publish that RFP and then we can make public comments on that,” Konrad said.
“I think the fuel farm is going to bring a lot more business to the airport; the goal is for it to be self-supporting, and by doing that, it’s going to help relieve some of the strain on the general fund, so that’s what we’re looking for,” said Konrad.
Konrad is also a machinist mechanic at the Apache Generating Station.
“Long term I think it’s going to help us be able to enhance the airport in general, do some expansion,” Konrad said.
“We’ve talked about runway extensions and I think that’s going to open the door to that by generating more traffic in and out of the airport; I think we’ll be able to accommodate those expansions,” Konrad said.
Both Konrad and Scott said having a partner like AEPCO to make the loans available and administer them once approved is a key to future economic development for the area.
“Having the RDL&G program and the ability to make these loans, that relates back to what I’ve said before about the Seventh Cooperative Principle, which is concern for community, and by the co-op being able to provide that service, a low-cost loan to the city, it’s a huge benefit and I feel we’re very fortunate to have that available to us,” said Konrad.
“Having these funds available has moved up this project by several years,” Scott said.
“We thank AEPCO for helping the city of Benson put this together; otherwise the city of Benson would have had to wait five or even 10 years, hoping to get a grant or other low-cost funding to install the fuel system,” Scott said.
*The two loans were made from two different USDA grants, totaling $360,000. The City of Benson has 10 years to repay the loans, one of which is interest-free and one of which has a rate of 3-percent simple interest.