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Groundbreaking at Bemidji Regional Airport serves as kickoff for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility

Officials turn dirt during groundbreaking ceremonies Thursday for a Bemidji Regional Airport renovation and expansion project involving the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility. From left are Sen. Mary Olson of Bemidji, Bemidji Regional Airport Authority member Ron Johnson, Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, Authority member Roger Hellquist (hidden by clod of dirt), Authority member Jack Frost and former Authority member and Beltrami County Commissioner Joe V...

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Thursday morning for the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility, located just east of the terminal building.

The nearly $630,000 renovation and expansion project is part of the $8 million airport terminal expansion and renovation, which will have its own groundbreaking ceremonies on July 24.

Peterson hailed local officials for continually developing the airport, saying it helps spur economic development in the region.

He also credited U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"He keeps me abreast of transportation issues and I keep him informed on agriculture," said Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "I call him my secretary of transportation and he calls me his secretary of agriculture."

Peterson, a pilot who flew into Bemidji Regional Airport to attend the groundbreaking ceremonies, lauded former state Sen. Jerry Willet, DFL-Park Rapids, for having the foresight to see the airport developed with long runways and do the groundwork on seeing a successful commercial venture.

Bemidji Airport Authority member Roger Helllquist gave the opening welcome, and noted he as a bicyclist likes to describe things simply in those terms.

"The Bemidji Regional Airport is like spokes on a bike wheel, with economic development branching out," Hellquist said."

Authority member Jack Frost noted that the airport improvements will be done without spending one taxpayer dollar. Local matching funds will come from passenger facility charges, or the local fees added onto inbound and outbound tickets from Bemidji.

The Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility improvements will basically improve energy efficiency, says Harold Van Leeuwen, Airport Authority executive director.

The current building, constructed in 1972, is energy inefficient, and its basic block and steel construction limits equipment sizing.

Added will be a new and larger drive-through bay to accommodate additional or larger equipment. An upgraded office area will allow use for firefighters and improved access to Internet. A fitness area will also be upgraded.

Inefficient electric and gas heat will be replaced by geothermal heat and cooling systems. A new roof will allow improved efficiency to meet energy code requirements.

Also, new water mains will meet mandatory fill rates for responding fire vehicles.

In expected benefits, "first and foremost, there will be a dramatic reduction in energy consumption and operating cost, with savings on the order of 50 percent of current cost," Van Leeuwen said.

It will also offer improved facilities for the new equipment and supplement fire support. Eventually, the airport station will become the Bemidji Fire Department's -- which now operates the fire station -- northwest Bemidji fire substation, extending coverage to the community.

The new facility will allow increased capability for fire personnel in work and fitness features available to them while covering commercial aircraft operations.

Local match on the project is $31,500