By Anna Jauhola
The Capital Investment Division committee heard two House bills concerning Kittson County issues last week at the state capitol.
The bills, introduced by Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, are for $20 million to replace the Lake Bronson Dam and for $12 million to build a new airport at Karlstad.
The committee heard testimony from Kittson County Administrator Eric Christensen on the evening of Wednesday, March 4. He reiterated what officials have been saying for months, that the dam is the No. 1 concern on the Minnesota DNR’s dam safety program.
It has been classified as a high-hazard dam since the early 2000s after an impact study showed a break would cause loss of life. Christensen likened the impact to the Spencer, Neb., Dam break on the Niobrara River in 2016. He noted that should the Lake Bronson Dam break, it will likely cause loss of life in the city of Lake Bronson, which is only 1.5 miles downstream. It would also impact several facilities in Hallock, which is 25 miles downstream, including the school, nursing home, assisted living, hospital and city park.
“It’s been 13 years after the dam was declared deficient and it went from $9 million to fix to $20 million,” Christensen said. “I can only guarantee two things if you wait – the dam will get older and less safe, and the cost will only get more expensive to repair it.”
The committee did not have any questions about the proposal, leaving the issue at approximately five minutes.
The committee met again on Thursday morning, March 5 at 8 a.m. Fabian introduced Al Lundeen, Karlstad Airport Commission chair, to talk about the need for a new airport in town. The current half-mile grass landing strip, which is in a low-lying swampy area, cannot accommodate larger aircraft needed for businesses like Mattracks. A new airport would not only help commerce, it would aid healthcare and emergency services. Lundeen used the example of the wildfire that swept around Karlstad in 2012. The closest refueling and water refilling location was Thief River Falls. But with a new airport, that wouldn’t be an issue.
The proposed $12 million bonding is needed for land acquisition, pre-engineering, engineering and construction in a different location from the current airport. The total project is estimated to be $18 million, Lundeen told the committee.
“In a community this size, you don’t have a lot of tax capacity or opportunity to raise a lot of capital,” Fabian said.
The committee members had several questions regarding the proposal, which gave the issue about 20 minutes on the floor. Rep. Tony Jurgens asked about the economic impact a new airport would have in Karlstad. Lundeen said the initial first-year impact, according to a Minnesota Department of Transporation estimate, would be $1.7 million.
Karlstad is in the 30 percent of Minnesota airports ineligible for federal funding, according to Cassandra Issacson, aeronautics director for MnDOT.
In that case, MnDOT does what it can to help smaller airports and Karlstad has already received grant funding for engineering and studies. She said, should Karlstad build a new airport, they could apply to become eligible for federal funding.
The committee has not made a decision on the requests yet.
By Anna Jauhola