EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Securing stable funding for the Federal Aviation Administration is critically important to the future NextGen development slated to take place in the township, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said Thursday.

Menendez, D-N.J., along with state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and other public officials toured the William J. Hughes Technical Center and participated in a roundtable discussion with tech center Director Wilson Felder. The visits come on the heels of a nearly two-week work stoppage that affected 640 local FAA employees after Congress failed to pass a bill extending the FAA’s operating authority.

Employees returned to work Monday after Congress struck a deal to that gave the FAA temporary operating authority through mid-September.

“The employees here at the FAA facility in Atlantic County are spearheading the development of NextGen technology that is of significant national importance,” Menendez said. “Last week’s shutdown eliminated jobs, put families at risk and cost our country hundreds of millions in uncollected tax dollars and associated project delays.”

Menendez made his comments during a news conference at the future site of the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park off Amelia Earhart Boulevard. The park, which is supposed to create 2,000 high-end jobs, is expected to complement the research going on at the tech center. But without consistent funding, the park and future jobs in the region could be in jeopardy, Menendez said.

Gordon Dahl, executive director of the South Jersey Economic Development District, said he hopes the first of seven buildings at the park will be completed soon, but could not provide an exact timeline for the work. Only roads and signage are in place at the park.

“Good-paying aviation technology and research jobs at the center and at the future NextGen park will fuel our economy for years to come,” Whelan said. “Our leaders in the House of Representatives must stop playing games and agree upon the long-term funding reauthorization for the FAA.”

During discussions about extending the FAA’s operating authority, U.S. Senate Democrats criticized the version of the bill passed by the House because Republicans added a provision that would have eliminated about $8.5 million in subsidies for airline service in 13 rural communities. None of the affected communities is in New Jersey.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, along with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt will meet with tech center employees today to discuss the recent work stoppage.

Menendez and LoBiondo have said they want to see the FAA employees received backpay for the time they missed.

“On this issue, we are of one mind,” Menendez said. “There’s not a touch of separation.”

Contact Jennifer Bogdan

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