By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

FLIGHT EXERCISE — A military type helicopter performs the equivalent of "touch and goes" at Griffiss International Airport. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

A proposal to hire a firm to prepare a new master plan for the county airport flew into turbulence Tuesday when it was grounded — at least temporarily — by a legislative panel.

The Board of Legislators’ Airport Committee voted 6-4 against a recommended agreement with C&S Engineers, Inc., to draw up a flight plan that charts future development at Griffiss International Airport. Five Democrats and one Republican, Majority Leader George E. Joseph, R-10, Westmoreland, opposed the motion to pay the firm a maximum of $520,028. Four Republicans supported it. Absent was Legislator Brian P. Mandryck, R-17, Lee.

Committee members spent approximately 45 minutes asking questions about the process that led to the selection of C&S, which was the only firm considered for the project. On the firing line were Acting Aviation Commissioner Chad Lawrence and C&S official Ralph Napolitano.

Professional consulting contracts for airports cannot be put out to bid based on price, but companies can be asked to submit their qualifications for review, according to Napolitano. Several committee members wondered why two or more firms weren’t interviewed.

Tuesday’s downing of the agreement, however, is not necessarily the final word. Board rules say any committee member who votes in the majority can request a reconsideration of the same measure.

As a result, any of the six lawmakers who voted against the C&S agreement can ask the panel to take it up again, Under this scenario, Joseph could ask for a reconsideration when all six Republican members are present. The committee would have to approve such a request. Six votes are needed to pass a resolution before this panel.

With his vote and presumably Mandryck’s, the agreement would pass, assuming the other four Republicans who voted for it Tuesday do not change their position. Wood said after the committee meeting he did not know how Mandryck would vote on hiring C&S for the project.

Lawrence told the committee he had no qualms about picking C&S for the project.

"Absolutely the best choice is C&S," he said.

Lawrence noted that the price had been reviewed independently, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it was found to be reasonable given the scope of the work. The FAA is being asked to fund 90 percent of the project. The county share could be $39,000.

Without the federal money, the agreement will not go forward.

When it comes to funding airport improvements, the FAA only pays for projects that are included in an approved master plan.

C&S is one of two previously approved consultants for the county airport that can prepare an airport master plan, said Airport Committee Chairman David J. Wood, R-28, Rome. Clough Harbour & Associates is the other one. The latter company was not considered for the master plan project.

C&S has been a county airport consultant for many years, since before the airport was moved to Griffiss in 2007. It prepared the last master plan. Clough Harbour was added as an approved consultant only several years ago.

"I mean competition is great," said Legislator James Murphy, D-29, Rome, when he asked about why only C&S was considered for the project.

Minority Leader Frank D. Tallarino, D-7, Rome, told the Airport Committee "I feel the costs of the airport master plan are cost prohibitive." He is not a committee member.

The FAA imposes a number of requirements on what is included in a master plan document, said both Lawrence and Napolitano.

If the agreement does eventually gain Airport Committee backing, it would then move to Ways & Means for approval before going to the full board.