The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

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Ontonagon residents speak to board on extending airport runway


August 22, 2018


Ontonagon — Pilot Dan Sullivan and several residents interested in the Ontonagon County Airport urged the Ontonagon County Board to apply for a grant to extend the runway of the local airport to 5,000 feet. He asked the board to apply for a recent government supplemental which included up to 1 billion dollars available to rural airports. He said a 5,000 feet runway is standard for general aviation. Sullivan claimed the grant funds are available to airports like Ontonagon with no local match.

Sullivan explained time was of the essence because the county would first need an engineering study and environmental study before the grant would be shovel ready and considered for funding by September 2020. “I have been told all that cannot be done in two years, but we can find people who can get it done,” he added. Sullivan volunteered to write the grant at no cost to the county, but said, “I would need the county to be completely dedicated to it.”

The present runway at the Ontonagon Airport is 3,400 feet and the five year plan calls for it to be extended to 4,650 feet. Sullivan said the study and application “needs to be done now.”

Alan Ralph backed up Sullivan in his request for the county to move on the issue. He asked  the county board to request for proposals for an engineering and environmental study in order to determine the cost of that action. He said that proposal would determine how much it would cost to go after the grant. Ralph and Sullivan each noted that many airports would be “going after” the same money.

Norman Radke, Hans Lagerloef and Tony Smydra all commented in favor of the action.

Some of the speakers cited Highland Mining and SynSel Biofuel who are bringing business to the area as a reason to extend the airport. Lagerloef stressed a bigger runway would attract business, but “the time frame is critical.” “The bottom line is this is a chance to obtain funds for the runway expansion, “he added.

Sullivan concluded, “Communities don’t build airports, airports build communities.”

Pat Tucker, Lost Bowl Development, who owns the land where SynSel plans to build a biofuel plant said the company has three priorities. “The first is return of the railroad, and we are moving on that. The second is the regular dredging of the harbor and there has been action on that with funds authorized, but we want it done in the spring not fall. The third is the airport and that has the lowest priority,” Tucker said. He added that not extending the runway to 5,000 feet is “not a deal killer. Synsel jets can handle the runway the way it is and it does not affect our deal.” He added, however, that when the county invests in infrastructure, like the airport, it is good for the area, as other planes that will fly in here as a result of the new business have the bigger planes.

Tucker, addressing the board said the county is “the gatekeeper of the people’s money.” He noted that a 500 foot extension is already in the airport plan and Synsel would be glad to work with the county, the airport manager and others in a committee environment and with cooperation then come to the county board with a unified proposal.


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