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Commission calls runway extension ‘safety issue’

By Staff | Dec 21, 2009

City Administrator Kathy Bailey points to a map of the airport that will be used for drainage. Bolton and Menk engineer Ron Roetzel looks on.

It came as no surprise.

Discussion at a meeting of the Blue Earth Airport Commission got heated when the topic of the runway extension came up.

Several citizens in attendance at the meeting questioned commission members as to the need for the extension to 4,600 feet.

Commission member Tim Steier responded that he is tired of hearing the commission did not spend enough time looking at the issue.

“We have studied it for five years,” he says. “Longer than that even.”

Steier says he first thought 4,000 feet would be long enough, but it was a meeting with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that convinced him they should go longer.

“The FAA said this was our one shot at the funds,” Steier says. “They said we needed to build what would be needed for 20, 30 or even 50 years. So we thought more seriously about what is needed for the future.”

Steier says a longer runway isn’t needed for his business of crop spraying. But, he adds, many planes are landing that are bigger and faster – plus they are heavier.

He pointed out that a plane crash in Albert Lea could have been avoided with a longer runway.

Commission member Tony Zierke agreed, calling a longer runway a safety issue.

“A couple of hundred extra feet could make all the difference in the world, if a plane is in trouble landing,” he says.

“If they come in 20 knots too fast, they are traveling 140 feet a second,” Steier says. “That is when a longer runway would be critical.”

Steier adds a longer runway could help with take-offs, if a plane is fully loaded with cargo and fuel.

Rodney Anderson, who lives near the airport and farms around it, claimed the commission was building a longer runway they don’t need.

At issue is the closing of 80th Street, which runs east-west between the airport and Anderson’s land.

“Your closing of this road affects us farmers,” Anderson says. “I use it for 500 operations (250 trips) a year, and Kriegers use it for 1,000 operations (500 trips) a year.”

Everett Wessels, a commission member, pointed out that he and his fellow farmers had a lot of inconvenience when I-90 was built across their farms.

“I had at least an extra five miles to travel to get to my fields,” he says.

Commission member Elwood Bentley told Anderson that the one thing that never changes is that things change.

“We have to adapt to the changes needed in the airport,” he says. “The dinosaurs didn’t adapt to the changes, and they are not here anymore.”

He adds that the city needs to keep up its infrastructure, and the airport is infrastructure.

City Council member Les Wiborg was in attendance at the meeting and says that most citizens of Blue Earth want infrastructure in the city limits improved, such as streets, not the airport.

“That is two different items,” Bentley says. “They are funded in different ways.”

Councilman Glenn Gaylord, a member of the commission, says he feels improving the airport is necessary for the future of Blue Earth.

“If there are fewer flights now, maybe it is because we haven’t improved the runway and airport,” he says. “We finally get on the list to make these improvements, with the FAA paying most of the cost, and people are complaining about it.”

Gaylord added that Blue Earth is in competition with every other city in the area, and needs to do whatever it can to keep a competitive edge.

“I hope I live long enough to see all this new business you think is coming here,” Anderson says.

The commission also discussed hangar rent, property acquisition and drainage issues.

They learned there are 26 hangar spaces and all are rented out.