Proposed Duluth Int'l Airport Runway Extension Aims to Keep $1.3 Billion Business Flying

By KBJR News 1

August 21, 2013 Updated Aug 21, 2013 at 9:10 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The Duluth International Airport's main runway has seen better days.

That's why Duluth Airport Authority Executive Director Tom Werner says a much–needed upgrade is among the top priorities for the terminal.

Werner says it's a matter of keeping it up to current aviation standards.

"The runway was largely constructed in the 1940s, and other than some cosmetic and topical repairs, [it] hasn't had a full–depth treatment in quite some time," said Werner, Tuesday. "That project could take over a year."

But taking the main runway offline for any time frame poses a major threat to maintaining, and retaining, the terminal's business.

That includes general aviation, air commerce, and the 148th Air Guard; the economic impacts of which are undeniable for the region.

"According to our 2007 study [the impact] was at $1.3 billion. So, it's significant to this region, and a disruption to that could have a dire effect," added Werner.

Werner says the most logical backup plan would involve extending the secondary runway—runway 321—from 5,700 feet to 8,000 feet.

But, that process involves rezoning the landscape around it, which could see surrounding homes and businesses—particularly those along Highway 53 and Stebner Road—falling within the FAA–regulated danger zones.

That, says Duluth Airport Joint Zoning Committee Chairman Michael Ramsey, might mean the potential loss of those structures.

"Our primary concern is: what can we get by with without disturbing the landowners—still making the 148th happy—and yet, we still have to get the ordinance passed," said Ramsey. "This is the hard part."

Ramsey hopes they can pass a non–standard ordinance that would accommodate all parties involved. But it can't be done without public input during the current zoning process.

"If something is wrong, let's fix it now so that we don't blow this out of proportion, and have a big fight on our hands," said Ramsey.

"We would like to see the 1988 boundaries of those zones preserved," said Werner.

Ramsey encourages anyone with concerns to get involved during the next two public meetings on the subject; the dates of which are still being determined.

Once a new ordinance has been agreed upon, Ramsey says it will be sent to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

There, it will be decided if it flies, or is grounded until the ordinance is revised further.

- Posted to the Web by Billy Wagness