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Rep. Rick Berg grilled on EAS vote at Jamestown town hall

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Residents expressed many concerns at a town hall meeting Thursday with Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D, with the most localized being Essential Air Service.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Residents expressed many concerns at a town hall meeting Thursday with Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D, with the most localized being Essential Air Service.

The federal program funded more than $1.9 million last year to Jamestown Regional Airport to subsidize air travel to and from Minneapolis.

Delta announced earlier that it will discontinue air service out of Jamestown. The U.S. Department of Transportation will open up bids to find a replacement. If no replacement is found Delta must continue service to and from Jamestown.

This comes after Jamestown Regional Airport has shown an increase in boardings from 3,339 in 2009 to 4,284 in 2010 and to 5,106 in 2011. Dean Remboldt of Jamestown asked Berg at the meeting at the Gladstone Inn & Suites what he plans to personally do to ensure air service in Jamestown.

"Again I support it (EAS). I support the FAA. We need to encourage air service," Berg said. "If we're going to grow jobs here in North Dakota and grow jobs in Jamestown, we need that connection."


A more direct question came from Dan Dewald of Jamestown about his vote to terminate EAS contracts.

"I voted for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) bill, and it did eliminate them," Berg said. "Quite frankly, the bill ­didn't go anywhere. It was not passed in Senate."

He voted for HR 658 in April that including phasing out all EAS funding by 2013. After the town hall meeting, Berg said it was that vote that allowed him to join an EAS working group in the U.S. House to further evaluate EAS.

"Long term, our goal in Jamestown is, we should have a couple of private carriers in Jamestown competing for business in Jamestown," he said. "That's going to drive down the price of tickets. How do we get to that point from this point? Essential Air Service is part of that component."

People at the meeting said an airport helps create economic activity in a city.

Job creation ideas

Berg said he talked to small-business owners who are uncertain about the future and what policies and regulations may be in store. He stressed that stability in the regulatory environment and long-term tax environment are crucial to help small businesses create jobs.

Some people disagreed with how to create jobs.


"Small businesses are not going to create jobs unless there's demand, and that requires having money for people to spend," said Ellen Linderman of Carrington. "... Businesses are not spending money. They're sitting on piles and piles of money - and they're not spending it. To me some of the uncertainty is being created, it's being created by the politicians in Washington arguing back and forth and not settling anything."

Berg agreed that Washington is broken and said the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would help fix it.

Just like in the North Dakota Legislature, the REINS Act, which Berg supports, would require the House, the Senate and the president to approve any major rules or regulations that have an economic impact of $100 million or more annually before they can be enforced.

"I totally agree with you, but yeah," Berg said to Linderman, "Washington is broke. It is broke. We passed over 200 bills in the House, and nothing has come back in the Senate."

He said North Dakota politics are needed in Washington, and that he gets asked how North Dakota has such a low unemployment rate and a budget surplus.

"Now is time to tighten the belt, control regulation, control spending and be on path to a balanced budget," Berg said.

Increasing taxes and eliminating the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich are not part of the solution, he said.

Stutsman County Commissioner Dale Marks was concerned with spending. He said the surplus the county once had is nearly gone after having to fix roads across the county.


If Stutsman County is forced to meet permanent federal regulations in the future, Marks said the county would have a difficult time coming up with 20 percent of the federally required matching portion of funds.

While budget cuts may seem easy, Marks said cuts can lead to lost jobs, which can snowball into problems for everybody in a community. One of those cuts he was talking about was EAS.

"We don't want to see that cut at all," Marks said. "I hope that you would kind of think about people back home here, and don't jerk the rug from out under us ..."

Ben Rodgers writes for the Jamestown Sun.

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