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Karlstad residents come out in force for airport meeting


Local residents filled the Karlstad Community Center for a public hearing about the new airport. Representatives from Bollig Inc., including Angela Holm and Kris Ambuehl, Karlstad Mayor Dale Nelson, and Karlstad Airport Commissioner Al Lundeen were on hand to present this project and answer any questions or address any concerns the public had on this project.

As review, the city received word that the state approved $5.6 million for Karlstad Municipal Airport improvements, as part of a transportation budget bill.

This $5.6 million would be used for acquiring land and mitigating wetlands, getting predesign and design services, doing construction, furnishing, and equipping a new runway and apron in the county. Specific improvements include: a 4,000-foot asphalt runway, a 8,400-square yard aircraft apron, and an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and Beacon.

The current Karlstad Municipal Airport includes a 2,606-foot turf runway that, according to a Karlstad Municipal Airport legislative briefing, doesn’t meet “area business, public safety, or healthcare needs.” Limitations of its runaway include: it being too short, chronically wet, and obstructed by power lines and nearby towers.

After Holm presented some of the above information, Lundeen addressed the timeline of the project from 2017 to 2021 and then highlighted the positives of this project.

“Aviation has an important role in our future needs,” Lundeen said.

He highlighted movement of goods and services, recreation, DNR usage, and fire protection as some examples of the needs addressed by an airport. Lundeen added how he is looking forward to the growth from the new airport before turning it back over to Holm.

She addressed the financial side of the project, highlighting how the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has supported this project step by step.

Since 2018, MnDOT Aeronautics has supported new airport development in Karlstad. The total costs associated with this project since 2018 have amounted to $6,030,400, with MnDOT covering 99.64% of the costs. The City of Karlstad has took on $21,520 (.36%), according to a info sheet provided at the hearing.

As for future maintenance costs of the new airport, Holm said MnDOT reimburses 75% of these costs, as it does with the current Karlstad Airport. Total maintenance costs would amount $3,500 to $4,000 per year, meaning the city would foot up to $1,000 a year for maintenance costs at the new airport.

As for down the road, the Karlstad Airport is being designed to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) planning criteria, so it can be part of the National Plan of Integrated Airports system (NPIAS). This would qualify the airport to receive $150,000 annually from the FAA for maintenance and development projects and other funding opportunities.

After the first 20 minutes, the public then had an opportunity to ask questions and address concerns— a period that lasted for just over an hour.

Local resident and former city council member Michael Wade then asked about the project’s feasibility study, specifically who did it. Holm said Bollig did the study. Ambuehl later added how this was not a case of an engineering firm making things up, adding how this feasibility study was done for MnDOT.

Speaking of the feasibility study, Terry Soltvedt, CPA, questioned the validity of a part of the feasibility study, specifically how it reported that 100 new jobs would be created due to the new airport. Mayor Nelson expressed how he understood the legitimacy concerns with this.

Holm reported how Bollig didn’t make up this number, arriving at this figure by talking with local businesses. She later mentioned how they spoke with five businesses, topped by Mattracks, Wiktel, and Troy Peterson’s business, Greenway Environmental, Inc. Ambuehl said these weren’t the only numbers it was working with in its feasibility study.

At the meeting, Glen Brazier, CEO of Mattracks, said his business made up most of these new job figures. Earlier, Brazier asked Soltvedt if he was calling him a liar. He was referring to the number of new Mattracks jobs that Brazier reported to Bollig.

“You’re calling me a liar,” Brazier said, his voice rising.

Soltvedt responded to Brazier that he wasn’t calling him a liar.

Mayor Nelson again highlighted how the dollars for Phase I of this project are completely covered by the $5.6 million, not costing the taxpayers at all. Anything beyond that requires the city to find additional funds.

Later Ambuehl said legislators supported this project believing this airport would increase jobs and the tax base in the area.

Mayor Nelson concluded the hearing by highlighting how more meetings and discussion amongst the city will take place on this project.

To see the complete story, read the March 10 issue of the North Star News in print or online.

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