Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport’s manager Kelly Braun addressed the Stark County commission on Tuesday in a request for the matching county funds of $671,000, needed to retain city, state and federal contributions, for the ongoing construction of the airport's runway project.
The airport recently received a $13 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for its ongoing runway expansion project, in addition to roughly $40 million total in grants, airport Manager Kelly Braun said.
Braun played a video for commissioners detailing the status of the ongoing project, highlighting the local construction entities used and addressed how the money being spent on the project is staying local to the Western Edge.
“My goal here today is to say that we appreciate your support, your past support and your future support,” Braun said. “The matching funds that I’m asking for today is $671,000.”
Commissioner Carla Arthaud asked Braun if he had reached out to other county governments, as the airport is a regional entity serving more than just Stark County.
“I haven’t approached Dunn County or Billings County yet, but I did reach out to them last year on your direction and was able to get a $150,000 contribution from Dunn County which was great,” Braun replied. “It was a little difficult for me to go to Billings County and Dunn County and ask for funds because the first question they ask is, ‘How much is Stark County giving?’ and I don’t have an answer for them.”
Braun added, “I’d like to have that answer in hand before I go to our neighbors and make a presentation to them.”
Commissioner Ken Zander asked Braun where the county was at from the “first point to the present point” in terms of contributions, and what remained due.
“This coming year, the project construction for 2021, we are securing those funds this year in 2020. We are very fortunate this year that our federal project was 100% covered by the FAA through federal funds, so it’s not a big ask next year,” Braun replied. “The total project cost we are looking at is about $3.2 to $3.5 million, and the local match that we have to contribute locally between the airport, city and counties is as stated.”
Braund added, “This project will continue to serve this community for years and we won’t have to come back in five or 10 years and say that we need to do this all over again. This is a concrete construction runway, so the life and durability of it is fantastic.”
Tom Reichert, a longtime Dickinson resident and private pilot who still flies, addressed the board and expounded on the importance of the airport for southwest North Dakota.
“I want the commission to see this in perspective,” Reichert said before providing details on what Williston and Williams County spent on their new airport. We are the third airport in the western part of the state to get any consideration. Now is our chance.
“Everyone talks about the airlines and passengers...but there is tremendous amount of activity on a daily basis at the airport from people like me, air ambulances, freight services flying six days a week, doctors who fly from other parts of the state, agriculture services flights every summer who are based in Dickinson and private businesses who from all over the country rely on that airport.”
Reichert added, “These people do business in Dickinson and Stark County. Stark County is used to taking care of its roads, bridges and things like that. If there was a bridge that went out or a bridge that needed repair that could connect families with Stark County and Dickinson you know what to do and you do it. Think of this airport as a bridge between all the business that is done outside and they all use that bridge to get in here.”
Commissioner Jay Elkin further clarified the situation.
“This was a federal and state commitment to a project with local buy-in. The FAA is committing $47,652,000, the state committed $19,763,000, all contingent upon local buy-in,” Elkin said. “The local buy-in is about $3.2 million and that is spread between city and county. That’s what I think we need to understand. This is a pretty good investment when you think of the outside donors coming in...especially since most of the contractors are all local, so those dollars going out are really coming back to our community.”
Commissioners then debated options, including funding a smaller amount to provide other counties with the opportunity to pay their fair portions of the cost and reduce the financial impact for Stark County.
Elkin noted that it is always easier to return money to the general fund than it is to increase money going out, and thus recommended that rather than present a smaller amount now and potentially have to find a way to pay the entirety of the balance later, should other counties not match, that the best solution would be to fund the entirety.
Arthaud argued that giving the entire amount now would only incentivize other counties to have less inclination or obligation to match Stark County’s contributions.
After a lengthy debate, the commission voted unanimously to approve a reduced amount of $350,000 and wait to see what the other counties contribute to the regional project.