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Runway extension narrowly approved

The Becker County Board on Tuesday narrowly agreed to support the idea of a runway expansion at the Detroit Lakes Becker County Airport, provided the city council gives its support to the concept.

The vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Barry Nelson voting in opposition and Commissioner Bob Bristlin abstaining.

Bristlin said he abstained because he could not go along with the letter of support, which stated in part: "We have investigated alternative sites for a new airport but feel that any new site suitable for an airport would have to be located too far from our community to provide the economic impact we desire."

Nelson, too, said in the meeting that he did not agree with that statement.

The motion was championed by Commissioner Harry Salminen, who sits on the Airport Commission.

"If this doesn't move forward, the airport itself is going to die," Salminen said. "If we don't do something with it, it's going to go downhill."

The Airport Commission unanimously decided to ask for motions of support from the county board and city council to proceed with plans to extend the runway about 500 feet, he said.

The city council will be asked for its support at its March meeting, he said.

Nelson said he'd like information on cost estimates for the project, and information on MnDOT and city traffic issues.

Salminen said there is no cost estimate yet, other than the local share of the project will be 5 percent of the total cost.

"It's all going to have to be addressed," he said.

Airport Commission members believe that, with time and the growth of the city, the airport will have to be relocated eventually, Salminen said.

But the commission believes the extension project is the best move for now, he added, since studies have shown there is currently no viable site within five miles of Detroit Lakes.

"This is telling the state and the feds we're moving forward," Salminen said. "If there are things we absolutely can't do, then this thing is history. If we can't solve these problems, the project's dead ... before any money's spent, we have to go back to the county board and city council for approval."