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Medora discusses prospects for airport

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Medora Mayor Doug Ellison looks over documents on Tuesday night during a Medora City Council meeting.

MEDORA — If city leaders here decide they’d like a new airport, up to 90 percent of the tab could be paid for with federal dollars, according to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

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In a letter sent from NDAC interim director and aviation planner Kyle Wanner to Medora Mayor Doug Ellison in late December, Wanner stated the popular tourist destination is included in the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Plan of Integrated Airports, which identifies several thousand existing and proposed airport projects across the country.

A discussion about the prospects of a feasibility study for a potential Medora airport took place Tuesday night during the City Council’s regular monthly meeting.

“The NPIAS would allow for federal funding up to 90 percent of the costs of establishing and maintaining a new airport,” Wanner wrote in the letter, which is dated Dec. 26. “The NPIAS status is currently being reviewed by the FAA and could be removed if a local sponsor does not wish to move forward with establishing an airport in Medora.”

Citing the booming Bakken oil play in western North Dakota and the city’s status as one of the “state’s largest tourist attractions,” Wanner wrote “now is the time for the city to determine if an airport would be a benefit to the community.”

During a brief discussion on the topic Tuesday, city council members agreed to look into the possibility of pursuing a feasibility study for an airport, though Ellison said he wanted to make sure input was received from the Billings County Commission, which could have the topic on the agenda for its Feb. 4 meeting.

“I think an airport would potentially be great for Medora,” Ellison said. “I’d at least like for us to look into it more. I’d be interested in what the county has to say on the subject.”

Councilman John Tczap agreed with Ellison, as did alderman Kevin Clyde, though Clyde wondered if enough had changed since the council last addressed the subject, a number of years ago.

Medora resident Sandy Baertsch said she didn’t need a feasibility study to influence her opinion.

“I think part of the reason why people come to Medora is because we don’t have an airport,” Baertsch said. “People come here to get away and to enjoy what Medora and its surroundings have to offer. I think something like an airport would take away from that.”

Airport project plans and improvements have become commonplace across the state in recent years, which most of the state’s largest airports recently completing, undergoing or planning improvements.

Geographically speaking, Medora is surrounded by airports — in Dickinson, Williston, Beach and Bowman — that all have undertaken significant improvement project. Bowman is in the process of building a new facility east of the city on Highway 12.

In his letter, Wanner said if city leaders decide not to pursue an airport, any potential project would likely be removed from NPIAS status and would “no longer be an option in the near term” for the city.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said the park would be “concerned” about any potential airport project and how it could compromise part of the visitor experience at the park.

In the mid-1980s and again in the 1990s, feasibility studies for an airport in Medora were pursued, but nothing ever materialized. Due to an airport’s close proximity to the national park, an environmental impact study would have had to take place in the 1980s, though the city declined to pursue the study due to “local funding constraints,” according to the NDAE.

An airport would be nothing new for Medora, however, as the city was home to a small airstrip called the Buddy Ranch Airport, which sat on land leased by the U.S. Forest Service at the top of a butte east of the city until the early 1980s.

There was no discussion on a possible site for a new airport.

Notes: City leaders announced that the Dickinson Ready Mix Co. & Concrete Products have agreed to donate $1,800 to the new Medora fire hall, which is being built west of town.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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