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Killdeer, New Town runway projects may draw from funds intended for Williston airport

Press File Photo by Katherine Lymn The lone building at the Weydahl Field Airport near Killdeer is shown March 12. The airport could get $5.2 million for a runway project.

BISMARCK — Mike Schollmeyer doesn’t sugarcoat the poor conditions at Weydahl Field Airport near Killdeer, in the heart of North Dakota’s oil boom.

“It’s kind of land at your own risk,” the chairman of the Dunn County Airport Authority said.

Yet, despite the rough spots in the runway and its 5,000-pound weight limit — not to mention the lack of hangars or a fixed-base operator — twin-engine aircraft shuttling oil company officials and workers routinely land at the airport, which was closed for several years before the county took it over in 2012.

“I get pilots with million-dollar aircraft calling on the phone, and we basically warn them away,” Schollmeyer said Thursday.

Airport officials hope to have a new, expanded runway in place by the end of the year.

But in order to fund the $5.2 million project, as well as a $2.8 million runway project at New Town Municipal Airport, the state Board of University and School Lands might have to divert grant dollars that lawmakers intended for relocation of the busy and much larger Williston airport — a project officials say is at least a year away from construction.

“I guess the question on the table is, ‘Do we move forward with projects that are shovel-ready now or do we wait?’” said Kyle Wanner, director of the state Aeronautics Commission.

State lawmakers earmarked $60 million for airports when they set aside $240 million for the state’s Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund in 2013-15.

And while it’s not in the legislative record, they also discussed using $25 million of the $60 million to help fund the relocation and expansion of Williston’s Sloulin Field International Airport, according to Department of Trust Lands Commissioner Lance Gaebe. His office reviews grant requests and makes funding recommendations to the Land Board.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he also recalls that being the understanding. But he said that with the Killdeer and New Town projects ready to go, the Land Board could direct money to those projects and lawmakers could replace the money for Williston during the 2015 session.

Priority for the airport grants is supposed to go to projects that have received or are eligible for federal funding. Killdeer and New Town don’t qualify.

“These two small airports, they don’t get any help from anybody,” Wardner said. “And if we can help them get their airports going, it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the community, it’s good for everybody involved.”

The Land Board awarded $27 million in grants last August during the first round for airports, including $21.2 million for Minot for a new passenger terminal and other improvements. Williston was awarded $117,032 for planning, New Town received $90,838 for runway design and Killdeer got $464,274 for runway design and land acquisition.

The Dunn County Airport Authority is seeking a $4.2 million grant for the Killdeer runway project. New Town has requested $2.5 million.

Schollmeyer said Dunn County has committed $900,000 to the project, and the Airport Authority will put up another $100,000 to cover the local cost-share. Northern Improvement submitted the low bid at $4.95 million, he said.

“That’s why it’s a little frustrating, because we have everything in place, and all we need is the state to say ‘go for it,’ and we’re going to have a new runway done before freeze-up,” he said.

The Killdeer airport sees about five flights per week, but Schollmeyer said he has letters of intent from a dozen out-of-state subcontractors committed to using the airport if a new runway is built. A bustling industrial park sits right across Highway 22 from the airport.

“The demand is at Killdeer,” he said, noting a new runway could attract a fixed-base operator and spur investment in hangars. A storm last summer destroyed the airport’s lone hangar and damaged three planes inside.

In Williston, commercial airline boardings have skyrocketed from fewer than 5,000 in 2003 to roughly 96,000 last year, Sloulin Field Manager Steven Kjergaard said, noting that figure doesn’t include company charters and private aircraft. The airport saw 9,500 enplanements last month alone, he said.

The airport is seeking a $1.3 million grant this round, and it didn’t request money to buy land for the relocation. Kjergaard said the airport expects to submit the final draft of its environmental assessment of the relocation project to the Federal Aviation Administration within the next two to three weeks, and it can’t purchase land until that process is completed. Three sites are being considered, he said.

The airport’s aggressive schedule for the estimated $220 million project calls for construction to start next summer at the earliest, with completion in 2017, Kjergaard said.

He said that while new runways at Killdeer and New Town might relieve some pressure on Williston, it’s unclear how much.

“We definitely need the funding for us,” he said. “We do need it.”

On Thursday, the Aeronautics Commission reviewed grant requests from 10 airports and recommended that the Killdeer and New Town requests be approved upon clarification of the legislative intent for the $60 million, Wanner said.

The Land Board is scheduled to consider the next round of airport grants on June 4.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.