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$300,000 grant invigorates airport project

Randal Mack, a pilot with Mead & Hunt engineering firm, fills his plane with fuel at the Detroit Lakes Airport Friday morning. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Things are starting to ramp up again on airport extension plans at the Detroit Lakes-Wething Field Airport.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the $337,075 for infrastructure improvements at the airport.

“I often use the Detroit Lakes-Wething Field Airport when flying across the district, so I understand the positive impact a runway extension could have,” Peterson said. “This grant is the next step in allowing the project to move forward.”

The $337,075 will fund an environmental study to evaluate any potential environmental impacts related to a proposal to extend the airport’s runway.

“We have some issues with the runway out there” explained City Administrator Bob Louiseau. “We have to do a fairly complicated and extensive environmental review.”

The review will update a lengthy environmental analysis of the proposed runway extension project that was done about 10 years ago, he said.

“Under state and federal rules we need to update all that,” he said. “This grant will enable us to do that.”

The city will need to kick in about $18,000 as its share of the matching grant, he said.

“The airport is busy enough to far exceed the minimum air travel levels needed to justify the runway extension,” he added.

“We’re looking at alternatives – either an extension, or if we can’t do that, then moving it (the runway). We’re at the point of looking at what are the realistic alternatives.”

This is “kind of the first step in the process,” he said. It involves the city detailing the need for an extension, and gathering input from potential users, who are not now using the airport but would if the runway were long enough to meet the demands of their aircraft.

Louiseau expects the entire process to take 18-24 months.

“Eventually, even if we don’t extend the runway, we’ll have to do something to move it away from Highway 10, according to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration),” he said.

“Airports are critically important to communities across Minnesota,” said Franken. “This grant is part of the effort to ensure that the Detroit Lakes airport remains an important part of the community’s transportation system.”