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Medora considers airstrip: Attendees express mixed feelings at public hearing

MEDORA — A lot can happen in 20 years — just ask Doug Ellison.

Medora’s mayor said at a public hearing here on Saturday he signed a petition against an airport study in 1994, but that he’s more open to the idea today.

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“My personal thoughts are that I’d like to see something more conservative,” Ellison said. “I like the idea of an airstrip, but I’d like to see one with a minimal impact — not a huge paved runway. We would know more after a study.”

During the 90-minute meeting — aimed at gauging public interest and any concern about a possible airport feasibility study — Ellison and other City Council members heard from residents, along with North Dakota Aeronautics Commission interim director Kyle Wanner and Billings County Commissioner Mike Kasian and others.

“At this point, the city has not spent a dime,” Ellison said. “That’s why we’re having the public meeting — we wanted this before we committed to anything. The first step in reestablishing an airstrip would be a feasibility study and we’ve gotten indication that the state could possibly assist with the funding of phase one of a feasibility study.”

Wanner said the first phase of a feasibility study would likely cost in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Medora was home to a small airstrip called the Buddy Ranch Airport, which sat on U.S. Forest Service land on a butte east of town for a number of years, but was closed in the early 1980s.

The last time the idea of a feasibility study for a possible airport was entertained by city leaders, any progress was shut down by residents who questioned whether such a facility was needed and if it even fit with Medora’s laidback Western theme.

Several people who spoke up Saturday — including Theodore Roosevelt National Park superintendent Valerie Naylor and retired former Southwest Judicial District Judge Patrick Weir — wondered if anything has changed since 1994.

“I’m not taking a position on whether an airport should be here or not,” Weir said. “I am, however, deadset against an airport up on that cliff where the Buddy Ranch used to be. It’s entirely contradictory, it would seem to me. Would we have helicopters up there and pipeline inspectors using it or tourist rides over the Badlands?”

Kasian took a more historical approach to expressing his thoughts.

“My own personal feelings are this: (Theodore) Roosevelt never flew in here,” Kasian said. “He came in on the rail or rode a horse. I’d like to know, if this goes through, who will pay for maintenance?”

In December, Wanner sent a letter to Medora city leaders indicating that the city could have federal funds available for the construction of an airport, though a federally-funded airport could come with stipulations that might not fit with Medora’s potential vision.

Wanner said Saturday a number of local municipalities and counties in North Dakota pick up the tab for airport maintenance, which, he said, could be as little as several hundred dollars per year for non-paved runways.

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation COO Mike Beaudoin said his organization has a number of concerns with a potential airstrip.

“We would have a concern with the Buddy Ranch site, and I would hope the city would take into account the location of Bully Pulpit Golf Course,” Beaudoin said. “We want to protect the quietness of Bully Pulpit.”

Ellison read a number of emails he received from individuals in favor of an airport while Wanner said the question of why Medora does not have an airstrip is one that has come up often in his office in years past.

No decision was made Saturday, but Ellison said a vote on the feasibility study would likely take place in April.

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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