After being closed 60 days for construction, the paved runway at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport was scheduled to open again on Friday, July 31 -- at least for daytime use.

“We will finish paving today on the main runway and taxiway,” Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm said Wednesday. Striping was scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and shoulder establishment, which involves moving dirt up to the runway and seeding, was set for Wednesday and Thursday, he said.

“The goal is to have the new runway open this Friday,” he said Wednesday.

Runway lights are yet to be installed, so there will be no night time runway use yet, he said. But at least it will be available for use: The paved runway was originally slated to have opened Monday.

The grass runway near Long Lake Park has remained open and in use all summer, Klemm said.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

A better airport

It’s been a major project, transforming the old 4,500-foot long, 75-foot wide runway into a 5,200-foot long, 100-foot wide runway.

The old half-taxiway has become a full parallel taxiway, and the new runway has been moved about 1,000 feet away from Highway 10 for safety reasons.

Serious upgrades to the airport’s upgrades lighting and navigational aid systems are part of the package.

The revised project budget sits at about $25 million (up from $18 million last year) which includes everything from the original environmental study to the perimeter fencing project. The local cost has not increased, since most of the additional cost has been covered by federal funding, Klemm said.

Getting down to earth

The airport has swarmed with trucks and earth-moving equipment this summer, and that’s not surprising, since there was more than a million tons of dirt, sand and gravel to be moved.

Some 560,000 cubic yards of earth was excavated for the airfield construction alone, according to Taylor Peterson, an aviation civil engineer with Mead & Hunt.

Roughly calculated, that’s about 40,000 dump truck loads. Or put another way, enough dirt to fill a 43-foot diameter hole 10,000 feet deep.

The airfield project also required 255,000 cubic yards of imported granular fill (gravel, sand or crushed gravel) or about 18,000 dump truck loads.

The overall project uses 10 miles of underground electrical cable, 280 runway and taxiway lights, 34,000 tons of gravel base and 24,000 tons of asphalt paving.

And that’s not even counting the two wastewater ponds (the very large one west of Highway 59 and the smaller one east of the highway) that are being decommissioned and filled.

Draining and filling ponds

That part of the project “is going a little slow,” Klemm said. ”They have to dredge out the biosolids in the bottom of the ponds, spread them out to dry, and apply back to the sites once the ponds are filled in.”

That means excavating about 20,000 cubic yards of muck from the ponds and filling the basins in with 10 times as much (200,000 cubic yards) of sand and gravel.

Those ponds, along with rapid-infiltration basins in the same area, long processed the water that left the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

But the city’s new treatment facility “doesn’t need ponds,” Klemm said, “so the basins are all being filled in.”

A work in progress

Even after the new runway opens again, work will continue at the airport for probably another 12 months or so, Klemm said. The approach lights will be installed and grooves put in the runway pavement for better drainage. The entire perimeter of the airport will be fenced to keep out deer and other wildlife.

A new airport zoning ordinance is being drawn up to replace the existing one that was created in the 1970s. The Airport Commission is serving as the Joint Airport Zoning Board on that project, which is required by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Klemm said. The process started last year and was put on hold to wait for statutory changes coming at the state level, he added. Public hearings and informational sessions will be held as part of the local process.

But the opening of the new runway is the big news for the airport and those who rely on its services, Klemm said.

“Getting that main runway open for traffic is a priority of ours,” he said.