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Changes are underway at the Missoula International Airport as construction is set to begin on a drastically larger new terminal, while the City of Missoula is moving forward with plans to annex hundreds of acres of airport land.

The airport is in the early stages of a multi-phase plan that could cost as much as $110 million to increase both the size of the terminal and number of gates, while streamlining traffic flow and adding food service options to accommodate rapidly increasing passenger numbers.

On Tuesday, the Missoula County Airport Authority Board approved both a roughly $1 million project to move the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the airport, and a $10.8 million project to demolish the existing TSA checkpoint building. The latter project also includes building a concrete foundation for a new terminal, refurbishing a new jet bridge and other work.

The funding will not come from taxpayers, but from Federal Aviation Administration grants, user fees from airlines and other sources. Construction is set to begin this fall, with a target date of 2021 for a new three-story, 175,000-square-foot facility. The project is being completed in phases so as not to disrupt passenger traffic significantly.

The board also voted to consent to the city’s plan to annex land around the airport, including the Missoula Development Park, commercial business property, residential areas and vacant land.

According to the city’s chief administrative officer Dale Bickell and Development Services director Mike Haynes, the purpose of the annexation is to accommodate rapid population growth in the Missoula Valley, where development pressure has pushed up against the surrounding mountains.

“It’s really about [the fact that] we’re adding 1,500 people to the city every year and we need a place to put them,” Bickell explained. “And I think both the city and the county acknowledge that this area, west of Reserve Street, in this airport area, makes sense.”

The city has applied for a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant. If it's successful, later this year the money will be used to build a grid of connector roads between Mullan Road and West Broadway, north of Reserve Street.

“The total project cost on the application was $22 million I think,” Bickell said. “Obviously the way we build infrastructure is we’re largely reactive to (development), and this would be a way to get in front of it. Adding that grid network would take so much pressure off that Mullan and Reserve area. It would be great if we get the grant.”

Neither Bickell nor Haynes said they knew how much property tax revenue the properties in the annexation map would generate for the city if that area is annexed. The county and city planning boards have to approve the measure, as does the Missoula City Council.

“The reason we’re doing this annexation is we know from a service provision point of view, it makes sense,” Haynes explained. “So to be honest, if we had a number we’d give you a number. But we don’t need to analyze it to say ‘Does this make sense or not?' We know that it makes sense. But what the tax revenues are, we have no clue.”

Bickell estimated that a commercial property owner in the area to be annexed would see a 20 percent increase in their mill rate after annexation. The mill rate is applied to the property value assessment to determine the total tax bill.

“What happens in that annexation scenario is the city mills would come on and be applicable, but mills that apply only to the county would come off,” he said. “The county road mill, the county health and other rural mills would come off, and also the Missoula Rural Fire District mill would come off. But then the city mills would come on.”

Haynes and Bickell said they would have the estimates of the new tax revenue before they present the plans to the City Council.

Haynes said the area included in the annexation map includes hundreds of acres of agricultural land, industrial land, some residential property, commercial property and the DeSmet Independent School District land. The principal of DeSmet, Matthew Driessen, has been trying for a long time to get affordable housing built near the school. The annexation area also includes the Canyon Creek Village subdivision.

Lynn Fagan, the airport authority's administrative manager and chief legal counsel, reminded the board that the airport consented to annexing much of its land back in 1985, when portions of the airport were connected to city sewer services. The airport still has to abide by Federal Aviation Administration rules, and the city won't put impact development fees on the new airport terminal construction. 

The bottom line, according to Haynes, is that growth is happening at a rapid pace in Missoula County, and the city's planners want to be ahead of the curve.

“There’s just an obvious place where the city’s going to grow,” Haynes said. “It’s not in Miller Creek and it’s not to the east and it’s not to the north, frankly. It’s about logical provision of services. If you know Missoula well, there’s one area that’s logical for development at a future time and that is the BUILD Grant area. So we’ve put a little bit of thought behind it.”

The city is hosting an open house on the annexation plans on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at the Wingate Hotel’s Jefferson Room from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

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