HILO — A partnership between the Waimea community and Hawaii County has raised the required matching funds to keep regular air service at the tiny Waimea-Kohala Airport, at least for this year.
The County Council approved the last of the matching funds last week, accepting community contributions to add to money coming from the council’s contingency funds and the county Department of Research and Development.
The money comes as the U.S. Department of Transportation threatened to cancel an annual subsidy with Mokulele Airlines because new federal rules required 5 percent community matching funds in the approximately $400,000 contract.
The subsidy is intended to help small communities whose closest airport is 40 miles away from the nearest hub airport. The Waimea airport is 39 miles from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.
The bulk of the matching funds are coming from county coffers: $10,673 from contingency funds allocated among council members and $8,000 from R&D, the county agency that promotes tourism.
The council accepted community money last week in the following amounts: Kohala Coast Resort Association donated $1,000. Riley Smith and Frankie Pang each donated $50. Patti Cook donated $100.
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who along with Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter and Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy used some of their contingency fund allotment for the match, praised the community partners. He said he particularly appreciated the donation from the Kohala Coast Resort Association, who he said derived no direct benefit from the airport.
“Had we allowed this to lapse, it would have taken literally an act of Congress to bring it back,” Richards said.
The state Department of Transportation initially planned to cover the matching funds out of landing fees but learned it wasn’t allowed to do that, a spokesman said.
Rob McKinney, president of Mokulele Airlines, praised the community and especially Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala, chairwoman of the House Committee on Economic Development and Business.
“Waimea has always been a great community for us,” McKinney said Tuesday. “We’re especially thankful to Cindy Evans. … Normally, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about politicians, but she has been phenomenal.”
Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona, supports Mokulele Airlines continuing to serve the airport, but she’s skeptical about whether the community can annually meet the cost share requirement.
Inouye said Wednesday she’s talked with Transportation Task Force colleagues at the National Council of State Legislators, and she plans to include it at December meetings in Washington, D.C., for congressional consideration.