WASHINGTON – A congressional spat over a bill extending the Federal Aviation Administration’s operating authority has temporarily stopped some work on an air traffic control tower at the Portland International Jetport.

The work stoppage — one many airport construction projects nationwide halted Monday morning by the FAA — is more of an inconvenience than a major problem right now for the $935,000 reinforcement of the control tower building, said Jeff Verreault, project manager for Portland-based Atlantic Defense Constructors, which is doing the work. Still, there are costs associated with stopping and eventually restarting the work, Verreault said.

Ten workers on the project, which is three-quarters completed, have been shifted to other work, Verreault said. A $163,000 elevator project at the control tower and a $9,000 electrical project also are temporarily halted.

But the FAA order affects work only at the control tower, not the ongoing terminal renovation, said Gregory Hughes, the jetport’s marketing manager.

The work stoppages are not affecting air traffic controllers or other safety operations or air service.

“Nobody is getting laid off,” Verreault said. “Luckily, the rest of the government is not shutting down.”

Part of the congressional fight is over the $200 million Essential Air Program, which offers federal subsidies to airlines that provide service to small airports including in Augusta, Presque Isle, Bar Harbor and Rockland. Maine lawmakers from both parties have fought to preserve the program.

The Essential Air Program was targeted for elimination by some Republicans as part of a bill overhauling federal aviation policies and renewing the FAA’s operating authority. Those who want to eliminate the subsidy program, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say it is an example of federal spending the country can’t afford.

A final FAA reauthorization bill has been stalled for years, and Congress has been passing short-term extensions to keep it going.

But the latest extension has been the subject of several debates, including over the Essential Air Service program. The House transportation committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., wants to eliminate the subsidies for 13 airports as part of the extension — none are in Maine.

The Democratic-led Senate refuses to go along. Several of the affected airports are in the home states of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate’s Essential Air Services caucus.

The dispute delaying the extension — the previous extension expired midnight Friday — also concerns a GOP proposal to make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

Nationwide, about 4,000 workers were affected by the FAA work stoppage order, though some, like those in Portland, could be transferred to other jobs.

But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters Monday on a conference call that, “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world. The fact that Congress can’t work this out is exactly why the American people are fed up with Congress.”

This dispute is unrelated to the impasse over raising the federal debt ceiling.

But Maine’s U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, sounded a similar note as LaHood, saying, “This FAA controversy is just the latest sign of how broken Washington is right now.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]