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Will runway expansion get axed?

By Staff | Jan 26, 2009

With the Blue Earth City Council studying places to make cuts to the budget, one item getting a closer look is a runway expansion project at the Blue Earth Airport.

The council has previously voted in favor of the multi-year, $7 million project.

Now, several city councilmen, including Dan Brod and Les Wiborg, have expressed concerns about the cost, especially in view of cuts in state aid.

At last Monday’s council meeting, City Administrator Kathy Bailey and Ron Roetzel of Bolton and Menk Engineering went through a PowerPoint presentation about the proposed airport expansion.

The project includes a new taxiway, runway apron area, and expansion of the current runway to 4,600 feet.

“The entire runway will be resurfaced,” Roetzel told the council, “Including the current area which needs repair.

Bailey and Roetzel showed the financial aspects of the project. Most of the $7 million would be covered by federal money, they said.

“The city’s share is going to be $360,000, or about five percent,” Roetzel explained. Bailey added that the city would probably have to bond to pay for their share.

Currently the city receives $150,000 each year of federal money. It comes from transportation funds, mainly a tax on aviation fuel.

“You have $570,000 of this money built up, and if it goes over $600,000 you won’t continue to receive it,” Roetzel explained.

That money is planned to go towards the project, but cannot be used as the city’s share.

Councilman Brod asked if the money could be used to resurface the existing runway, without going with the expansion. Roetzel said the answer lies with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“If we change the project, we need to run it past them,” he said. “They already have said OK to the expansion to 4,600 feet.

Roetzel also pointed out that federal economic stimulus money is going to come down the pike, and aviation is getting $3 billion in the transportation section.

“Blue Earth has been on the list for federal discretionary dollars since 2005,” Roetzel said. “That means your project is earmarked for those funds.

Mayor Rob Hammond asked what would happen if the project was halted. Roetzel said the $574,000 the city already has gotten from the federal government would still be there, but the city would lose out on the other discretionary funds, and the stimulus money.

“The project would move to the bottom of the list, and would take at least 10 years to get back to the top,” Roetzel said. “Sometimes it takes 15 to 20 years to get a one-time shot at these funds.

Brod questioned if the city could pave the current runway without the expansion. Roetzel said the city could wind up spending more on that project than on the current expansion proposal.

Roetzel explained that the federal monies are made for 95 percent of a project. The state funds projects at a 70 percent rate, unless it is for something that creates revenue. In that case, it is a 50/50 match with local funds.

Brod also questioned why the city was planning on going to 4,600 feet instead of the ultimate goal of 5,300 feet.

Roetzel said it was the local Blue Earth Airport Commission which made the final decision to go to 4,600.

“Any more than that and it would involve closing another road and more land acquisition,” Roetzel said. “The jets we are trying to accommodate can land at 4,600 feet.

Bailey and Roetzel also showed a list of companies using the airport, the types of planes, and the proposed future uses.

“The number of operations (takeoffs and landings) at the airport has been increasing,” Roetzel pointed out. “It was 470 in 2006 and is projected to be 670 in 2011.”

No action was taken on the project at Monday’s meeting.