DECATUR — Archer Daniels Midland Co. said there is nothing out of the ordinary about its involvement in lobbying for federally subsidized jet service at Decatur Airport, according to documents the company filed with the Department of Transportation.
The filings are the latest in the back-and-forth over who will provide commercial air service in Decatur for the next two years through the Essential Air Service program, which is federally subsidized.
Massachusetts-based Cape Air took issue with ADM's involvement, also in filings with the federal agency, on Jan. 16. ADM fired back with its response two days later.
The department awarded Cape Air a two-year contract with Decatur Airport to offer flights to St. Louis and Chicago. The Decatur Park District and ADM had backed another airline, SkyWest, which planned to offer jet service to Chicago.
SkyWest appealed the decision on Jan. 8. In the most recent filing, ADM also urged the department to reconsider.
It's unclear how a shutdown of the federal government would affect the selection process. The Essential Air Service program is not mentioned by name in the department's plan for a shutdown, which is posted on its website. DOT representatives did not immediately respond to emailed questions Monday evening.
"ADM's strong support and advocacy for SkyWest's jet service proposal is founded on its long desire to bring the best air service for its employees and Decatur residents," ADM's counsel, Kenneth P. Quinn, wrote in the company's letter.
The park board initially voted 3-2 to support Cape Air on Nov. 3, but one member changed his mind two weeks later after ADM promised the park district $100,000 for airport improvements and 5,000 passengers a year if SkyWest were chosen.
Cape Air had referred to ADM's involvement as "remarkable," a characterization that ADM's attorney said was "absurd."
"It's nothing of the sort," Quinn wrote.
Cape Air also noted the role of Chris Riley, a longtime park board member and ADM's director of government relations. Riley supported SkyWest in both votes, but Cape Air said that if he had recused himself ("given ADM’s active involvement in this matter and expressed vested interest in the outcome"), the second vote would have been a tie.
Riley previously declined to comment, but said at the time of the vote that he felt no conflict in supporting the same airline that his employer preferred because he personally wanted to bring jet service to Decatur. He did recuse himself from a vote at the following meeting to accept $100,000 from ADM for airport improvements.
ADM did not mention Riley in its filing.
Cape Air spokeswoman Trish Lorino issued a statement Monday, saying the company is aware of ADM's correspondence with the federal department and "will continue to respect the DOT's process for determining the best service for the community."
Cape Air previously said it would be helpful for the agribusiness giant because of its interline baggage and ticketing agreements that allow passengers to transfer to connecting flights more easily.
Air Choice One, which has provided service at Decatur Airport since late 2009, does not have ticketing and baggage agreements with larger airlines.
Park District Executive Director Bill Clevenger previously told the Herald & Review that the district would not have further comment and would await the Department of Transportation's final decision.