By Anna Jauhola
The Karlstad community is one big step closer to building a new airport.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the state transportation budget in late June, which grants $5.6 million to the city of Karlstad. This amount will allow for a 4,000-foot paved runway.
Al Lundeen, chairman of the Karlstad Airport board, said this is not only an opportunity to build an asset to the community and area, but will also provide as many of 100 new permanent jobs. A study done by the Minnesota departments of Economic Development and Transportation, an airport of this size with 10 aircraft can create that many new jobs in the area.
Mattracks alone, based in Karlstad, has indicated it intends to add 20 employees when the paved strip is built. The study indicated a new landing strip would have a $1.7 million impact and create about 20 jobs annually over five years.
The current airport by Karlstad is a 2,600-foot grass landing strip located along Highway 11 west of town.
“The existing airport has several limitations for business use and growth, and it doesn’t support emergency medical services or firefighting either,” said Angela Holm, head of the aviation division at Bollig Engineering, in a press release. “This new airport is important on multiple levels as it brings new jobs and increased recreational and economic activity.”
It was built in 1953 and just can’t handle much traffic. It is often soggy and does not support aircraft much larger than small spray planes. Lundeen said the board found they cannot expand the current runway because of major power lines that run east-west and north-south.
With the money approved by the Legislature, the board is working to purchase land in Section 33 of Arveson Township, 1 mile southeast of Karlstad. The runway will be entirely in Kittson County, but an easement will be needed in Marshall County for the southern clearance portion of the runway. Lundeen said he met with the Marshall County Board of Commissioners about that last week. He said they will consider placing a large concrete culvert in Lateral Ditch 5 in that location in the case a plane overshoots the runway.
“We don’t want them to crash into that deep ditch,” Lundeen said.
Much of the money will provide for purchasing land, installing aviation fixtures, engineering costs and construction.
Lundeen said they hope to also secure federal funding to expand the project to a 4,700-foot runway as originally planned.
At 4,000 feet, the runway will handle about 90 percent of the city’s needs. It will allow for small six-to-eight passenger jets, emergency fixed-wing aircraft and more agricultural planes to land in Karlstad. The strip will also better accommodate existing businesses that already stage planes for their operations, such as Mattracks and Greenway Environmental, at other airports. Lundeen said the airport will also help increase tourism. One person has already expressed interest in building a hunting camp and keeping a vehicle at the airport for those who fly in to stay at the camp.
The new runway will be able to accommodate up to a 12,500 pound aircraft.
While there is still work left to do – purchasing land, obtaining easements, environmental, permitting, contracting bids, etc. – getting this funding was the biggest hurdle, Lundeen said. They have a five-year window in which to use the funding. Lundeen is optimistic the project can be done within that time frame.
Lundeen said he and the airport board are proud of the local effort, as well as state lawmakers and engineering personnel who have helped make this possible.
“We’re just grateful for the work of the people at Bollig Engineering. They’ve been great, and with their connections in the Legislature, they’ve been very helpful,” Lundeen said. “And Sen. Mark Johnson has been just a great guy, and so has Rep. John Burkel.”
By Anna Jauhola