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BREAKING NEWS

Projected airport usage numbers drop

By Staff | Oct 12, 2009

A study of projected usage of the Blue Earth Airport – if a runway extension is completed – has changed, the Blue Earth Council was told last week.

Ron Roetzel, the Aviations Group Manager at Bolton and Menk engineering firm, reported the results of the new study.

Some companies which had projected increased use of the airport in the future dramatically cut back on those numbers.

Fagen, Inc., for instance, had earlier reported having 150 to 250 operations per year. An operation includes one landing and one takeoff.

Now, however, Roetzel told the council Fagen has lowered their numbers to 14 operations.

“The reason is, they were flying here for employees dealing with an ethanol plant,” Roetzel says. “Because of the economy, especially in the ethanol industry, they are cutting back.”

In fact, Roetzel told the council, several other firms cite the economy as a reason for cutting back on flights.

Seneca Foods previous estimate of 50 annual flights is cut back to 30. Minnesota Eye Consultants cut their number from 50 operations to four.

ProPilot LLC and United Hospital District both cut their estimates down to zero.

The one firm which did not decrease it’s projection of operations, should the airport runway be increased, is BEVCOMM. They would go from no current operations to 360 if the runway is increased.

“Plus, they indicate they would move their plane from Fairmont to Blue Earth, if a heated hanger is available,” Roetzel told the council.

Roetzel also gave an update on the funding available for the proposed airport project, which includes repaving and expanding the runway to 4,600 feet, adding a taxi-way and reconstruction of the hanger taxi area.

“There is still $6.2 million designated in Federal Discretionary funds for the project,” Roetzel says.

Answering a question from the council, Roetzel says the federal agency would fund their 95 percent share of the project whether it was just repaving the current 3,700 foot runway, or doing the whole thing.

He also explained that repaving the current runway would cost an estimated $3.7 million. Going to a 4,000 foot runway would be $4.9 million, while the 4,600 foot runway would cost $5.4 million.

“The downside of just redoing the current runway is losing out on the opportunity to expand the runway,” Roetzel says. “I don’t know when we would ever get the chance again.”

Allan Aukes, chairman of the Blue Earth Airport Commission, says his group still strongly supports the plan to extend the runway to 4,600 feet.

“We took a vote after this new information, and it was unanimous to still recommend to the council to move forward with the full project,” he says.

The council did not take any immediate action on any of the information provided.

Likewise for information from City Attorney David Frundt concerning a conditional use permit for the new location of the oxygen tank at United Hospital District, as well as a variance for the new ambulance garage.

Frundt suggested that UHD needs to reapply for a variance, which would need a determination by the Planning Commission.

“If they determine the structure is an ‘accessory building’ for UHD, then a variance would not be necessary,” Frundt says. “If not, they would have to decide whether to issue the variance.”

If they don’t, the worst case scenario would be the garage would have to be moved, Frundt says. At issue is the fact that the building does not meet a five-foot setback rule, so a variance to the ordinance would be necessary.

UHD Project Manager Mark Mensing told the council he would relay the message that a new application for a variance would be needed.

He pointed out that UHD’s attorney is Chuck Frundt from the same office as the city attorney.

“If necessary, we will advise UHD to have a different attorney, if a conflict of interest point arises,” Frundt says.