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Pre-flight check: City, TKDA share airport runway plans

Marcus Watson of TKDA, right, explains the airport runway expansion plan to Darrell and Eileen Bliss at the Feb. 26 open house. Rae Yos/Stevens County Times

Expanding the Morris Municipal Airport's runway will be good for business, city officials said, but at least one airport neighbor believes it won't be good for his home.

Darrell and Eileen Bliss live near the south end of the runway. The city plans to extend the runway to 4,900 feet which would accomodate small business jets.

"They want to run it down, closer to our house," Darrell Bliss said at a Feb. 26 open house on the planned airport runway expension.

A longer runway means more noise and other problems, he said. "My property values, that's a concern. How many people want to move where they can hear airplanes and jets take off over the top of their house?" Bliss said.

"It's a benefit to the city and the community," council member and airport commission member Kim Gullickson said of the airport runway expansion.

Superior Industries and its subsidaries of Westmor and Hancock Concrete regularly use the airport. The company is one business that will benefit from the runway expansion, said Micah Zeltwanger, chief executive officer of Superior Industries. Superior has three full-time pilots and three airplanes, Zeltwanger said.

Zeltwanger said, Superior is a member of the Morris community, "the community is important to us" and the entire community would benefit from the expansion.

A 4,899-foot runway will allow business jets to land and make it safer for all planes using the airport, Zeltwanger said.

"The length of the runway inhibits the ability to fly here," Zeltwanger said. Some Superior customers must fly to Alexandria or other airports.

If the runway is extended, Superior will likely buy a business jet that can land on the longer runway, Zeltwanger said.

It will take an estimated $6.2 million to expand the runway and make other improvements such as an additional apron. The Federal Aviation Administration provides 95 percent of the funding with 90 percent in federal money and 5 percent in state money. The city provides the remaining 5 percent.

Junior Lindsay, an avaiation planner for TKDA of St. Paul, the city's consulting engineer on the project, said the FAA supports airport projects because they know improvements improve the safety of the airport and can support the community's economy.

But Bliss, for one, isn't supportive of the proposed project.

"I don't think it's very nice," Bliss said."They could go someplace else."

Extending the runway south is the least impactful and it meets the needs of users, said Marcus Watson, group manager of aviation planning for TKDA.

If the runway was extended to the north the city must deal with Minnesota Highway 28, Watson said.

"The (Federal Aviation Administration)) was very clear that Highway 28 would have to be relocated," Watson said. And it's likely some changes would need to be made with the BNSF railroad line in that area, Watson said.

"It takes a significant amount of money to relocate a highway," Watson said.

The city will need to buy about 50 acres of land near the runway to accommodate the project.

The extension project also includes an apron. FAA guidelines require a certain amount of a property near an airport as a safety zone. More land is needed for both reasons.

Bob Feuchtenberger owns some of the land the city would need to buy. The needed land is the middle of about 70 acres of farmland. His concern is the resale value of his property around that middle piece.

TKDA and the city had the Feb. 26 open house to share information about the proposed airport project. The next step would be to conduct the environmental assessment , Watson said. Negotiations will land owners would start after that study, he said.

In a Feb. 28 interview, city manager Blaine Hill said the city's airport commission and its technical advisors will meet on March 14. The council is expected to discuss several airport-related items at the March 12 meeting, Hill said.

Although the city is pursuing the airport project, any decision to build would come after approval of a final design and a bid approval, Hill said. Those two steps would not happen until after the environmental assessment is completed which would likely not be completed until the end of the year, Hill said.