A potential life-saving medical airlift service will be housed in Detroit Lakes after Becker County commissioners and the Detroit Lakes City Council both approved a financing agreement to construct a new airlift helicopter hangar at the airport during meetings this week.

Becker County and the city of Detroit Lakes share ownership over the regional airport and will each match up to $350,000 in funding to begin construction of the project. Both groups approved the funding split during their meetings on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20.

"This has a real benefit for our community, especially in, a lot of times, their worst hour," said Barry Nelson, chairman of the Becker County Board. "I think it's a win-win for the city, the county and the residents."

During the county board meeting, Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, said they are also pursuing a state grant opportunity through the Minnesota Department of Transportation to cover some of the site work costs, which would decrease the amount both entities would need to contribute in total.

Jim Olson, right, Becker County Engineer, and Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, present and answer questions about construction of a new medical airlift helicopter hangar at the Detroit Lakes - Becker County Airport during a Becker County Board of Commissioners meeting at the county courthouse on Oct. 19, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Jim Olson, right, Becker County Engineer, and Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, present and answer questions about construction of a new medical airlift helicopter hangar at the Detroit Lakes - Becker County Airport during a Becker County Board of Commissioners meeting at the county courthouse on Oct. 19, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

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Klemm also said 70% of the engineering and design costs, about $30,000, for the project thus far were covered through state grant funding.

"I do want to thank Mark (Hagen) for his work in the airport committee, and Kelcey (Klemm) and the city, this is a big win, I think, for our community that's not going to cost us anything," said Nelson. "It's going to cost us some up-front money, but we'd get paid back over the course of time."

The new hangar will house a helicopter emergency services unit for Life Link III, pending approval of their 10-year lease agreement with the airport. If the agreement is signed, the company's lease will repay both the county and city for financing the initial construction costs.

The new airlift medical personnel, including: a pilot, flight paramedic and flight nurse, will be on-station at the Detroit Lakes - Becker County Airport around the clock. The new base of operations in Detroit Lakes will be the 11th helicopter base location for the company in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a company news release.

Life Link III will also continue its partnership with Essentia Health, which has been a member of their service consortium since 2010.

"Life Link III has been a great care partner to Essentia Health throughout the years, from relocating a helicopter to the Detroit Lakes area to assisting in medical coverage for large-scale community events," said Joe Newton, senior director of emergency medical services for Essentia Health. "We are excited to have them locating here full-time to provide rapid transportation and care for seriously injured or critically ill patients in need of time-sensitive treatment. These patients often had to wait for air medical resources from Fargo, Bemidji, Brainerd or Alexandria. Detroit Lakes is an ideal location to serve the needs of rural hospitals and EMS services in the area."

The new hangar will include a three bedroom apartment and office area to house the medical airlift staff, and other personnel assigned to the airlift unit. Life Link III has a similar contract with the Brainard airport, but that site includes a detached mobile home instead of a built-in apartment area.

"In emergency situations, timely access to care can be the difference in life and death," said Tanner Goodrich, senior vice president of operations at Essentia Health. "The commitment to access and quality by Essentia Health and Life Link III will improve health outcomes in the communities that we serve."

Site plan for a proposed helicopter hangar at Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport. (Submitted)
Site plan for a proposed helicopter hangar at Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport. (Submitted)

Designs for a proposed helicopter hangar at Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport. (Submitted)
Designs for a proposed helicopter hangar at Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport. (Submitted)

The company's helicopters and airplane are medically-configured to serve as flying intensive care units, according to the news release. The some of the fleet's aircraft features include: point-of-care laboratory testing, point-of-care ultrasound, and a LUCAS mechanical CPR compression system.

The new Detroit Lakes base will bring 16 new career opportunities to the area, according to a company news release.

Life Link III plans to have their airlift unit operational in spring 2022.