By Rich Pollack

    With an $882,000 Florida Department of Transportation grant approved and another $600,000-plus FDOT grant expected next year, the Boca Raton Airport Authority is moving forward with plans to build a long-discussed U.S. Customs station on airport grounds.
    “We now have the funding in place to begin the design phase of the customs facility,” said Airport Authority Executive Director Clara Bennett.
    While there are a number of variables at play, Bennett said, it could be anywhere from two to two-and-a-half years before the expected 4,200-square-foot U.S. Customs and Border Protection building could be operational.
    The timing and size of the facility, Bennett said, are both still up in the air, with a lot hinging on decisions made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
    The total project is expected to have a $3 million price tag, with the Florida DOT kicking in half and the airport authority covering the remaining $1.5 million from its reserve funds.
    With the initial state funding and a joint agreement between the airport authority and federal officials already in hand, the airport authority’s engineering firm, Ricondo & Associates, will be able to start drawing plans for the center, expected to be located on the airport’s west side.
    Preliminary meetings with federal officials took place last month, Bennett said, and a project manager has been assigned.
    Once completed, the customs facility will provide added convenience, efficiency — and safety — for planes returning from international flights.
    Currently, planes returning to Boca Raton Airport that need to clear customs have to make an interim stop at another airport — often Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport or Palm Beach International Airport,  Additional landings and takeoffs not only take time but also burn more fuel.
    Reducing the number of takeoffs and landings also improves safety, according to Bennett. “Any time you can fly point to point, especially after a long flight over water, it’s going to enhance safety,” she said.
    The new station will be available to boaters returning from international trips and could also reduce some of the traffic at the customs station at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, home to one of the busiest general aviation airport customs facilities in the country.
    To cover the cost of operating and maintaining the facility, the Boca Raton Airport Authority plans to charge a user fee based on the size of the aircraft involved. An analysis done as part of the authority’s feasibility study shows that the facility would very likely be self-sustaining.
    Over the next several months, airport authority staff will work closely with engineers and architects. Eventually, they will bring plans to the airport authority board for approval and authorization of a contractor to begin construction.

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