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Airports awarded: Killdeer, New Town runway projects land energy impact grants

Press File Photo The deteriorating sign to the Dunn County Airport at Weydahl Field, shown in this March 12 photo, is an example of how much the runway it advertises needs repairs.

BISMARCK — Western North Dakota airports dealing with the rising demands of oil and gas development were targeted Wednesday for nearly $11 million in state energy impact grants, with more than half of that money going to airports at Killdeer and New Town.

The state Board of University and School Lands approved $4.2 million for a new, expanded runway and other improvements totaling nearly $5.3 million at Weydahl Field Airport near Killdeer.

New Town Municipal Airport will receive a $2.5 million grant for a nearly $2.8 million project to rebuild its runway, apron and hangar taxiway.

In total, the Land Board awarded $8.9 million in airport grants and pledged another $2 million in the next fiscal year to the Killdeer airport as part of its $4.2 million commitment.

Land Board members debated in April whether to award grants for the Killdeer and New Town projects because doing so would cut into the $25 million that lawmakers had discussed using to help fund the relocation and expansion of Williston’s Sloulin Field International Airport — a project that has no identified site and isn’t expected to start construction until next summer at the earliest.

Priority for the grants also is supposed to go to airport projects that have been awarded federal funding or are eligible to receive it, which excludes the Killdeer and New Town projects.

But State Land Commissioner Lance Gaebe said Wednesday that he consulted with the Senate and House majority leaders and they agreed that the state should put the grant dollars to work for projects that are ready to go, like those in Killdeer and New Town.

“They’re certainly critical to their areas,” he said.

Mike Schollmeyer, chairman of the Dunn County Airport Authority, said in April that conditions at Weydahl Field Airport are “kind of land at your own risk” because of the runway’s rough spots and 5,000-pound weight limit, yet twin-engine aircraft shuttling oil company officials and workers routinely land there. The airport was closed for several years before the county took it over in 2012.

State lawmakers earmarked $60 million for airports this biennium when they set aside $240 million for the state’s Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund in 2013-15. The Land Board awarded $27 million in grants last August during the first round for airports.

Gaebe said he hopes to work with Williston airport officials and the state Aeronautics Commission to identify specific projects in Williston such as design and site preparation that the Land Board can fund yet this biennium. Aeronautics Commission Director Kyle Wanner said the hope is that Williston will have an airport relocation site selected this fall and a federal funding commitment in hand by next spring so the commission can recommend grant funding through the Land Board.

The other airport grants awarded Wednesday were $2.04 million to Watford City to help reconstruct its apron and erect an airport terminal, $833,700 to Bowman, $729,706 to Williston, $283,500 to Crosby, $260,000 to Mohall and $46,160 to Dickinson.

The board also committed $9.1 million to fund infrastructure improvements — mostly water projects — in 13 western North Dakota cities next fiscal year. That will bring the total amount of energy impact grants awarded or committed to cities this biennium to about $102 million.

Mike Nowatzki

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