Nez Perce County will fund the remaining $2.25 million in incentives of an overall $4 million deal that brought United Airlines to Lewiston, but the money will pass through the Visit Lewis Clark Valley tourism bureau to avoid the kind of multi-year contracts prohibited by state law.

The county commission already approved and paid the first $1.75 million installment on the incentives using a portion of its $7.8 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act. And while Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman said that is an appropriate use of the money, he wasn’t comfortable entering into a direct contract that would obligate the county over a period of three years.

“I suggested that we do it the way that we are going to do it with any other expenditure for ARPA — that we use a separate entity that’s designed more for this type of purpose,” Coleman said. “(Visit Lewis Clark Valley) was more than happy to step in as the contracting entity with United.”

The details of the contract will be worked out later and will have to be approved by the county, possibly on Monday, according to County Commission Chairman Douglas Havens. The Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport Authority board unanimously approved the agreement Tuesday.

Gary Peters, chairman of the authority board, said the new arrangement gives the Federal Aviation Administration a higher level of reassurance that the airport is operating within the boundaries of its grant assurances and clears up any misperception of funding sources.

“With the addition of Visit LCV to the agreement and the funding commitment from the county, the airport can aggressively continue to focus on its growth efforts and securing additional service to and from the region,” Peters said in an email. “From the outset, the intent was to fund the financial obligation through community collaboration very much like the effort that was made to secure the Delta Airlines service in 2005.”

He said the airport has been working closely with the FAA to make sure it follows its guidelines to not use airport revenues to fund any part of its air service agreements, like the deal with United.

“This agreement follows and strengthens the precedent set by Nez Perce County by funding the United Airlines agreement directly in Year 1 and now provides clear clarification on the funding source for future years,” Peters wrote. “This agreement also provides flexibility to the community and other partners or sponsors by allowing them to participate in additional air service routes or opportunities working through this great organization, Visit Lewis Clark Valley.”

Coleman said there is historic precedent and case law for Idaho governmental agencies using private third parties as pass-throughs for funding multi-year projects that would otherwise be prohibited by Idaho’s law against such agencies obligating expenditures that stretch beyond one year.

Havens and fellow commissioners Douglas Zenner and Don Beck voted this week to approve sending $2.25 million to Visit Lewis Clark Valley, contingent on its ability to reach a satisfactory agreement with United. There is one drawback to handing the money over to a third-party, however, according to Nez Perce County Auditor/Recorder Patty O. Weeks: The county will lose the interest income the funding would have generated while it sat in the bank over the next two years awaiting disbursement to United.

Under the terms of the initial agreement between the airport and United, the county will pay $1.25 million in the second year and $1 million in the third year. Havens had initially expressed hope that the airport would be solvent enough in the second and third years to make the payments itself. But, according to the contract, no airport revenues will be used for the subsidy because of Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.

The airport board had initially expressed hope that Lewiston would contribute to the incentives since it owns the airport in conjunction with the county, but Peters told the commissioners this week that he understands that the city is focused on addressing its multiple infrastructure issues.

“With the county’s commitment to the air service obligation, the city of Lewiston can remain laser-focused on the vision of infrastructure upgrades, which will be essential for the inevitable growth we are about to experience due in large part to the addition of the United Airlines service,” he said.

-In other county business, the county commissioners granted $20,000 from its ARPA appropriation to the L-C Valley Adult Resource Center warming shelter project for homeless people that plans on opening next month.

The warming shelter is a partnership with the Lewiston Corps of the Salvation Army at 1220 21st St., and will provide an overnight place to stay for up to 20 people when temperatures drop below freezing over its planned six months of operation.

Center board member Michelle King told the commissioners that the Twin County United Way is providing emergency funds for supplies like cots and bedding, but the center will need approximately $125,000 for other expenses, mainly staff. King said the center has several other grant applications pending with other agencies for the balance of the funds.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or at (208) 310-1901, ext. 2266.