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Record number of fliers, airport lot brims, expansion is in works

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DICKINSON - Finding a spot in Dickinson's airport parking lot these days sometimes means getting creative.

"We had about 15 to 20 cars parked on the grass at any given time," airport manager Matt Remynse said of one week last month.

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The overflowing lot has led to not just ruts and dead grass, but also drivers using the wrong exits, yahoos driving across ditches and parked vehicles blocking the traffic flow, Remynse said.

Plus, with dry grass, there's also a fire danger.

"If it's a lower sitting car, it could potentially start a grass fire with the muffler," Remynse said.

As a solution, the airport plans to add 30 more spots this summer. The original vision to install 50 new spaces had to be scaled back after the project's funding from the Federal Aviation Administration was cut by nearly 50 percent, Remynse said.

Dickinson isn't the only airport that has had its funding cut. Airports of all sizes across the country have been hit as construction season approaches, said Gary Ness, the director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

The cut comes at a bad time for Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, which recently reached a 10-year high in passenger boardings, Ness said. In February, there was a 34 percent increase in boardings compared to the same time last year. January saw a 25 percent jump, according to NDAC figures.

The record numbers of passengers that are pushing the lot to its limit are due to a combination of factors, said Dickinson Airport Authority Commission Chairman Tom Reichert.

"The increased oil activity had at least in part an impact on the ridership on the airline," Reichert said, adding the region's strong manufacturing and agriculture economies have also helped boost the numbers. Reichert pointed out that rising fuel prices may have swayed some people to fly out of their local airport, rather than drive elsewhere.

At the commission's meeting last month, Commissioner Craig Steve made clear his thoughts on why the parking lot was brimming.

"That's oil right there," Steve said gesturing toward the vehicle-packed lot.

Remynse said funding for the 30-space expansion is coming from three sources: $80,000 from the FAA, $2,000 from the state and $2,000 in money from the state's Energy Development Impact Office, which gives grants to government bodies in oil-producing counties.

The other half of the federal money could come through if Congress passes an FAA funding bill. Congress is expected to take up the bill by the end of June, which is when the current funding expires, said Brenden Timpe, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

Because the amount of funding is not certain, the lot will be expanded in stages. More spaces may be created if more money is secured, Remynse said.

The parking lot, which currently holds 52 vehicles, sits between the main terminal and state Highway 22. The current plan calls for the lot to be expanded to the northeast. Depending on how much money is available, the lot could be surfaced with gravel or asphalt. Also, new lights will be installed, Remynse said.

Reichert said FAA funds falling through is nothing new to him.

"It seems like an annual event; everything we plan on gets changed," he said.

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