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Big federal grant paves way for airport project

A World War II era airplane's propellers make a swirling con-trail around the aircraft as it takes off from the Detroit Lakes Airport during the 2017 Water Carnival Fly-In Breakfast. Tribune file photo

A $12.8 million federal grant should allow the runway extension and improvement project to proceed on time and on budget at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport.

The $12,826,068 grant is unusual in that it does not require the usual 10 percent local match. That's designed to offset lower-than-expected state funding, said Mark Hagen, who sits on the Airport Commission.

Minnesota grant funding for the project was capped at $200,000 — which was only about a third of what had been expected, Hagen said. So the extra federal funding means the project should be able to be completed a little ahead of time and on budget, without having to ask for more money from the city and the county. The City of Detroit Lakes and Becker County have already committed $1 million apiece to the $18 million project.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson was instrumental in landing the grant, which was supported in the Senate by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

"As an avid flyer, I understand the importance of investing in our regional airports," said Peterson. "This is exciting progress in a multi-year project that I have been proud to support from the beginning. Investing in infrastructure means investing in our future."

In 2013, Peterson, Klobuchar and then-Sen. Al Franken convened a meeting with about 20 agencies involved in the environmental review process to get the project past a regulatory delay.

Longstanding efforts to expand the airport have required advocating for supplemental funding, multiple grants, and cross agency meetings to break the log-jam of regulatory red tape. This latest progress is a step in the right direction to fulfill a vital community development need, Peterson said.

The project will transform the existing 4,500-foot long, 75-foot wide runway into a 5,200-foot long, 100-foot wide runway. The existing half taxiway will become a full parallel taxiway, and the new runway will be moved about 1,000 feet away from Highway 10 for safety reasons.

The airport will also receive much-needed upgrades to its lighting and navigational aid systems.

The construction schedule will remain the same for the major runway and taxiway work, expected to be completed in 2020, but the higher-then-expected federal grant should allow work that was scheduled for 2021 to be finished sooner.

That work includes some airport lighting and the draining and filling in of the city's existing wastewater treatment ponds at the south end of the airport property.

"After all these years it certainly is gratifying to see to see the project come to fruition," Hagen said.

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