If Detroit Lakes and Becker County go along with the plan, the long-delayed runway extension project at the city-county airport will take flight at last over the next few years.
The Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport Commission has endorsed an $18 million plan that would widen and extend the runway, while also moving it away from Highway 10 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway corridor.
A number of county commissioners and city council members attended a special meeting on the proposal Wednesday.
Under the plan, the 4,500-foot Runway 13 would expand to 5,200 feet.
It would extend across Airport Road, which will be closed, and displace 16 acres of wetlands to the southeast.
Property acquisition will be required on both ends of the runway.
“It’s hard to convey all the technological analysis that has gone into the runway length and expansion,” said Bob Louiseau, who spoke at a recent Airport Commission meeting. “We have looked at at least nine alternatives – we really tried to do a thorough study.”
The project involves about a mile of pavement and a half-mile safety zone clearance on either end of the runway. The airport will remain open during the construction process.
Federal funds are expected to pay 90 percent of the project cost, and state funds are expected to pay 5 percent.
The project is near the top of the FAA priority list, which usually means funding will be approved, said Airport Commission Member Mark Hagen.
MnDOT Aeronautics state funds are guaranteed through 2017, he said.
The 5 percent local share will be split 50-50 between the city and the county.
Depending on interest rates, and whether the local entities decide to float a 15-year or a 20-year bond, each would have annual payments of between $65,000 and $87,500.
The longer runway, with a parallel taxiway, will lift the city-county airport into the same category as all other Minnesota communities of its size, including Park Rapids, Fergus Falls, Alexandria and Brainerd.
It is expected to more than double the number of aircraft using the airport, from fewer than 400 to more than 850 each year, according to a presentation by Bryan Page, a principal with Mead & Hunt consulting.
The firm has been working its way through an updated environmental analysis of the airport project, working closely with as many as 25 state and federal agencies.
In the end, it will propose the expansion plan with the least environmental impact.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have the final say on the project.
A public meeting on the proposed plan is set for 6-8 p.m. July 6 at Detroit Lakes city hall.
The project timeline is tied to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. Existing treatment ponds on airport land can be used for on-site wetland mitigation, saving substantial dollars, Page said.
But the city continues to use the open land at the airport for wastewater irrigation and treatment, and will do so until 2019 or 2020.
Airport Road is destined to close even if the city and county decide not to expand the runway, Hagen said.
‘There’s no doubt,” he said.
That’s because the runway will be moved away from the Highway 10-BNSF railway corridor no matter what, and Airport Road is in a safety impact zone.
The airport is vulnerable to multi-million dollar lawsuits under the current set-up, even with a long-standing FAA waiver.
If the city and county reject the runway extension, the runway will still be moved away from highway 10 and will have to be shortened to 3,500 feet, Hagen said.
If the city council and county board approve the plan and the budget, the first phase of construction will start next year, with remaining construction phases scheduled for 2018 to 2020.
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