Pilot and aircraft owner Tim Thompson of St. Croix Falls.
GRANTSBURG—The future of Grantsburg Municipal Airport (GMA) may hinge on promises and commitments. A mid January meeting could decide its fate.
Grantsburg Village Board members want the airport to bring in enough revenue to keep it from being a burden on village taxpayers. Private pilots who might house their planes in GMA hangars want a more certain future there before they sign a multi-year airport hangar lease.
The pilots, the village board and others interested in the airport’s future will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, at the village hall to try to hammer out accords that would satisfy both sides and cement the airport’s near-term future, through 2024.
Private pilot Tim Thompson of St. Croix Falls is forming a GMA pilots association. He flies his plane out of GMA and leases a hangar there. At Monday’s meeting, Thompson said that for many years the village board has been teetering on closing the airport. He said, “When I talk to fellow pilots about the Grantsburg Airport, the usual response is, ‘Oh, that airport is going to close.’”
The concern for pilots stems from one section of the GMA hangar lease contract. Its wording allows the village to close GMA for good, on short notice. That uncertainty drives away pilots who might otherwise sign a multi-year lease, says Thompson. Thompson has 8.5 years remaining on his 10-year hangar lease agreement.
Thompson and village trustee Rod Kleiss, a strong advocate for keeping the airport open, say that contract’s closing clause must go. Kleiss said he’s checked with eight small municipal airports in our area of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Grantsburg is the only airport with a closure clause.
GMA issues have been a village board topic nearly every month in 2014. At its November meeting, the village board directed village clerk Jennifer Zeiler to have the village’s attorney review the GMA contract and advise the board on whether to remove the closure clause. The attorney’s response was keep it, and strengthen it to protect the village more.
Most board trustees said Monday they were reluctant to go against the attorney’s advice. But Kleiss, owner of a growing Grantsburg industrial business, said the keeping the airport open is an important part of the Grantsburg revitalization plan, and it won’t survive with that clause in the contact.
Kleiss said he and Thompson could attract 10 or more pilots to sign leases and house their planes at GMA if that clause were taken out. It might take two or three years to do so, Thompson said, after all the bad talk about GMA.
That got Village Board President Glenn Rolloff’s attention. Ten active pilots with hangar leases would satisfy the FAA requirements for maintaining an airport. It would allow the airport to operate in the black. Thompson said he will encourage several airplane owner/pilots to come to the Jan. 13 meeting. The board said it will commit to annual hangar inspections and enforce the contract rules.
Thompson said he will encourage several airplane owner/pilots to come to the Jan. 13 meeting. The board said it will commit to annual hangar inspections and enforce the contract rules. Hangars now used for general storage will have to be cleaned and ready to house planes. Hangars now used for general storage will have to be cleaned and ready to house planes.
As the hour-plus discussion concluded, both sides were expressing optimism that they could come to a positive agreement to keep the airport open.