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Business North - Around The Region - Duluth & Superior Newspaper
Cook County Chamber endorses runway extension
The Cook County Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the Grand Marais/Cook County Airport Commission’s effort to extend the existing airport runway 4,200 feet to 5,000 feet, said Jim Boyd, the Chamber’s interim executive director.
In a letter to the Airport Commission, Boyd wrote that the Chamber board recognizes the runway expansion project as vital “for the health, safety and economic vitality of the Cook County community.”
Progress on the runway project, many years in the planning, continues. The Airport Commission appears to have satisfied state and federal environmental and cost-benefit requirements and can proceed to project design, he said.
Airport Commission Chair John Barton reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have scheduled a meeting with the Airports Commission on Sept. 4 to tour the facility, review the project plan and discuss funding options. Normally, the FAA provides 90 percent of funding for approved airport infrastructure projects and requires a 10 percent local match. However, federal budget constraints, including the effects of sequestration, mean much less federal money is available.
Barton said the Airport Commission now has the money to meet the match requirement on the project, estimated to cost $5 million if construction started today and proceeded without problems. But that reserved money may be required to finance project design, which means the Airport Commission could find itself asking the Cook County Board to finance the match if the project is approved.
The Airports Commission has pursued the runway expansion because the existing runway is too short to support state and federal fire-fighting aircraft. As a consequence, aircraft fighting forest fires in Cook County, such as the 2007 Ham Lake fire, must operate from airports much more distant from the blaze. This reduces their ability to quickly suppress an emerging fire or contain a large blaze.
“With more than 90 percent of the county land area in state and national forests,” Boyd wrote the Airport Commission, “with so many of our residents living in the urban-wildland interface, and with our economy so dependent on attracting visitors who wish to enjoy those forests, their lakes, wildlife, hiking trails and streams, it is vital that we be able to respond quickly to the threat posed by wild fire.”
In the Chamber letter of support, Boyd noted that plans for the airport always included a runway at least 5,000 feet long, but that lack of available matching funds required that construction stop at 4,200 feet when the airport was built. A 5,000-foot runway, airport manager Rodney Roy explained, is an FAA standard that allows larger aircraft to accelerate to takeoff speed and still safely stop if necessary, before running out of pavement.
Numerous state and federal agencies, along with Cook County health-care agencies and others, also have provided strong support for the runway extension.
To raise community awareness of the airport’s role and explain the runway extension project, the Airport Commission and the Chamber jointly are planning a “Fall Color Fly-In and Open House” at the airport on Sept. 28.
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