Improved airport would provide another highway to Paynesville

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 12/9/97.

The site location and survey study for an improved airport in Paynesville have been completed. Engineers with Short Elliot Hendrickson, St. Cloud, are exploring the next phase of the project finding cost estimates.

Steve Whitcomb, a member of the airport ad hoc committee, met with the Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce last week. The airport ad hoc committee consists of Phil Bailey, Steve Whitcomb, Lew Storkamp, Dave Peschong, Dennis Zimmerman, John Atwood, and Dennis Wilde.

Whitcomb explained the airport project consists of two phases. The planning phase and construction phase. Within the planning phase, there are four elements: consulting session (which was free); preliminary layout, final layout, and cost estimates.

The airport ad hoc committee received word from MnDOT Department of Aeronautics that the airport was reinstated on the maps and charts this summer due to the planning activity for a new airport.

With the reinstatement, it means the city is eligible for up to 60 percent reimbursement of expenses for land acquisition, engineering, fuel system, maintenance and operation; 80 percent on a hangar loan program and 100 percent of construction up to $200,000 and 60 percent over $200,000.

ďIn order to find out the construction costs, the city and Paynesville Township are going through a number of steps,Ē Whitcomb said. The two entities are sharing expenses on the project.

The present airport has a 2,300 foot runway. But with the trees at the north end and highway and power lines on the golf course side, the runway is realistically closer to 1,800 feet. The state minimum requirement for a turf runway is 2,500 feet. On aviation maps, Paynesville is listed as a restricted and private airport.

The proposed new airport would be designed with a 3,700 foot turf runway. The angle of layout would extend further west, away from the trees and roadway to the north. ďWe intentionally moved the airport west to accommodate better elevation,Ē Whitcomb said.

With the proposed new length, the runway could be designed with thoughts of paving it in the future. ďWe need to pave the runway to keep the transient traffic into the airport happy. Our local pilots are satisfied with a turf runway,Ē Whitcomb said.

Part of the airport package would include fuel depot, hangar space, an arrival/departure building which includes bathrooms, telephones to file flight plans, and a small concession area.

ďThere isnít an available hangar space for rent for 80 miles in any direction,Ē Whitcomb said. Currently the Paynesville Airport has eight aircraft based here. ďWe could easily pick up more if hangar space were constructed,Ē he added.

In looking at airport maps, the Federal Aeronautic Administration (FAA) likes to see an airport every 30 minutes apart. Geographically, there is a big hole in the sky over Paynesville. There is an airport at Sauk Centre, Brooten, Litchfield, St. Cloud, Willmar and Maple Lake.

ďIn talking with pilots last summer, I learned pilots like Paynesville because they can stop here stretch their legs, walk to the Dairy Queen or Subway to get something to eat before taking off again,Ē Whitcomb said. Other drawing cards for weekend pilots are the golf course, hotel, and lake for fishing.

ďAn airpark is a new concept we could implement,Ē Whitcomb told the chamber members. ďMany people are receptive to the idea to get out of metro rush hour traffic. They could live in Paynesville, fly to the Twin Cities for work and return home, via airplane.Ē

The time table for the airport project would be to obtain funding in 1998 which would be used for land acquisition, construction starting in 1999 with an open house scheduled for the year 2000. ďOf course Iím optimistic about the project. If it doesnít happen within that time span, give or take a year or two, it wonít matter.Ē

Whitcomb told the Chamber members he needs letters of support which he can present to planners and legislators. Letters of commitment from pilots are also important if they desire to house their planes in a local hangar.

ďIf we can get the airport established, and if it can grow to more than 25 aircraft housed here, the city could quality for federal fund. This would entitle the airport project to get reim-bursement of up to 90 percent of our costs,Ē Whitcomb said. However, along with that comes prevailing wage which could

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