Planning for Willmar airport’s future

Planning for Willmar airport’s future

April 2, 2017

Planning for Willmar airport’s future

WILLMAR—It’s been 20 years since the Willmar Airport Master Plan was updated. Back then the city was involved with the major venture of moving the airport to its current location on state Highway 40.

“All it talks about is how we’re going to build this new airport. We are a little past that now,” said Airport Manager Megan DeSchepper.

The master plan will lay out the short-, mid-, and long-term development plans for the airport.

“It will set goals and policies on how we will grow,” DeSchepper said.

If a developer comes to the airport and wants to open a business, staff will look at the plan to see how it fits in the overall airport picture. It is also an economic development tool, because it will lay out the amenities and possibilities available at the airport to potential businesses.

“It is all these different pieces coming together,” DeSchepper said.

Bolton & Menk, along with a master plan advisory group, has been working on updating the plan since December. The group is made up of airport users, airport commission members, city and county staff, along with people in economic development and from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“They are players in what we want to see out at the airport,” DeSchepper said.

The contract with Bolton & Menk to create the plan, which was approved by the City Council in June, costs $305,000. However, the city will only be paying 5 percent.

“This project is quite costly, and it’s 90 percent paid by the feds,” DeSchepper said. The remaining 5 percent is coming from the state.

The plan advisory group has met twice, with a third meeting scheduled in April. They will be reviewing and touring the airport facilities.

They have completed an inventory of the airport and looked at the number of aircraft based at the airport and how that could grow over the next 20 years. Members also have reviewed the operations forecast for the airport and created surveys.

There were two types of surveys sent out, one for business users and one for those who use the airport for recreational purposes. There were 24 user surveys returned and three business surveys completed.

“They have different needs, different perspectives, they use the airport differently and they are important groups to hear from,” DeSchepper said.

Some of the responders said additional hangar space and ground transport was needed, along with improved drainage and an aircraft charter.

“They’re trying to determine what they will need in the future,” DeSchepper said.

Beyond the advisory group, there will also be opportunities for the public to be involved in the process. A website created by Bolton & Menk, https://www.bolton-menk.com/clients/Willmar/Airport/index.html, will be updated as the project moves forward and includes meeting agendas and minutes, a project overview, documents and maps and contact information. There will be meetings throughout the process, including for the public, local landowners and residents, and regular updates to the Airport Commission. The Willmar City Council will also be involved, as the council must approve the final document.

“There is a lot of public involvement,” DeSchepper said.

While a few chapters of the plan have been written, it will take nearly 18 months for the final project to be completed. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics and Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration will be reviewing the chapters as they become available.

“They have a substantial stake in the project. They want to know where we are going,” DeSchepper said.

Once completed, the updated master plan will guide the city of Willmar as the airport grows and changes.

“To be ready if someone wants to develop. We want to be forward thinking,” DeSchepper said.

West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud