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Will airport plan fly?

By Staff | Apr 20, 2009

The Blue Earth City Council and the Airport Commission heard from several sides on the proposed $6.5 million dollar airport rehabilitation and expansion project.

They heard from a group of citizens, most of whom expressed concern about the cost – and need – for the expansion.

They heard from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the funding for the project.

And they received a detailed presentation on the project itself from two employees of the city’s engineering firm, Bolton and Menk.

It all came at a special city council work session held last Monday night at the Public Safety Building in Blue Earth.

Ron Roetzel and Mark Swanson of Bolton and Menk explained the scope of the project.

“The runway expansion to 4,600 feet is just one part of the plan,” Roetzel said. There also is a taxiway, new apron, lights, runway mower and T-hanger repair included, he added.

DePottey said the FAA would be funding 95 percent of the projects, both with entitlement funding, and discretionary funding. Their financial input would be $5.35 million in discretionary funds, and $724,578 in entitlement funds.

“The City of Blue Earth gets $150,000 in these entitlement funds each year, and you currently have $574,578 in the fund,” she said.

The city’s share of the overall plan would cost $340,000, or 5-percent. City Administrator Kathy Bailey said the cost to each homeowner would be an increase of $12 to $14 per year for the 20 years of the bonds.

Bailey also noted that whether the city moves forward on this project or not, they will need to make improvements to the airport, such as repaving the current runway. This could cost up to $2.4 million, she said.

DePottey said the FAA would fund any airport improvement plan at the 95-percent ratio. However, she said a small airport only gets on the queue for projects like this once every 15-20 years.

“We want you to have a plan for the future, then we will fund it and move on to other airports,” she said.In answer to a citizen’s question, DePottey said the funds do not come out of federal tax dollars, but rather out of a fund of money from airline ticket tax and jet fuel taxes.

Roetzel, in answer to a question, said Blue Earth cannot do a full expansion to a 5,000 or larger runway, with instrumentation.

“We need to do this in two stages, and this is the first one,” he said. “Stage two will be done a long-time in the future.”

Citizens questioned the need for any expansion, wondering how many airplanes actually used the airport. One person doubted the figures presented by Bolton and Menk.

“Do we even need an airport with a better one (Fairmont’s) located just 18 miles away,” said former councilman Travis Keister. “We need to pay for streets, not airports.”

Administrator Bailey explained that the streets are also on a 20 year plan for repair.