Sky Harbor Airport to see costly changes to runway

By KBJR News 1

June 16, 2014 Updated Jun 16, 2014 at 9:20 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- The Sky Harbor Airport along Duluth's Park Point is in need of some costly fixing.

The airport needs to make changes to the existing runway because of trees obstructing its approach, and if some sort of changes aren't made the airport will likely be shut down due to non-compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation have said the large white and red pines in the forest near the airport, many of which are as much as 200 years old, pose a dangerous safety hazard.

However, there are a few proposals going forward.

City officials say the preferred option would be to shorten the runway by 450 feet and rotate it five degrees to the south, extending it further into the bay.

This option would add to the existing airport property, wouldn't take out any trees from the old-growth pine forest, and would cost $8.5 million.

A second option would shift the runway 1.5 degrees, and would cost $5.7 million.

However, that second option would remove many of the trees that some Northlanders feel is their duty to protect.

The last option would be to take no action.

"The beauty of it is stunning, and if you go there, I think everybody who's gone there to find something like this in the middle of a city where they can teach, they can take their children, they can teach their children about the forest, and have their children experience the forest is a really wonderful thing. And it's something that our community wants to keep and values very highly," said Duluth city councilor Sharla Gardner.

If no changes are made and the airport is forced to close, it would be required to pay back all grants received from federal agencies over the past fifteen years... which city councilors say is upwards of $8 million.

The proposals need to be reviewed at both state and federal levels before moving forward with any plans.

The Airport Authority will consider publishing an environmental assessment on Tuesday laying out these proposed solutions to the airport's ongoing problem with the trees and the runway, at which point a public comment period would begin.

Elsa Robins