Hearing is May 7 for Kalispell airport decision

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People are encouraged to share their opinions about the future of the Kalispell City Airport during a May 7 public hearing at City Hall.

The Kalispell City Council voted 6-1 on Monday night to schedule the public hearing. Council member Tim Kluesner and Mayor Tammi Fisher were not present.

The hearing puts into motion a timeline that has council members voting to decide the 83-year-old general aviation airport’s future two weeks later on May 21.

“If folks have a comment to make, that’s the time to come out,” Charles Harball, city attorney and interim city manager, said about the public hearing.

Council has in hand a final airport master plan update and recommended airport layout plan, both prepared by Stelling Engineers.

Similar to the proposal from a master plan done in 1999, Stelling Engineers recommends Kalispell upgrade its airport to meet B-II design standards.

The estimated $16 million project would move the runway 1,000 feet south, realign it by 5 degrees, widen it and lengthen it from 3,600 to 4,200 feet, with larger runway protection zones at each end of the airport and a proposed heliport at the southwest end of the runway.

Supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, the project would require Kalispell to buy 114 acres of land from 17 owners and remove or shorten two KGEZ radio towers south of the airport.

An upgrade to B-II standards would make the project eligible for $13.5 million in funding from the federal Airport Improvement Program and let Kalispell be reimbursed for $3 million it has already spent on land and airport improvements toward a B-II upgrade.

Council members will either accept that recommendation by Stelling Engineers or decide to pursue some other option for the airport.

Other options could include a lesser $3.8 million upgrade to B-I design standards paid for by the city, trying to move the airport to another location, or closing the airport immediately or as it deteriorates over the next five to 10 years.

Those options would leave Kalispell ineligible to be reimbursed for the $3 million it has already spent. And to close or move the airport, the city would have to buy out existing lease holders. That’s a cost presently estimated at $4.8 million, according to Stelling Engineers.

“Everyone can come in and have their say and council members will consider that input and vote on May 21,” Harball said.

“It will be a resolution to approve the master plan and its recommendation, one of the other choices, or something in between.”

The final master plan update is available at www.Kalispell.com or in the city clerk’s office.

So is an eight-page list of questions and answers about the study and its recommended airport layout plan from an April 9 council work session.

Council member Kari Gabriel said she encourages people to read the final master plan update and other airport-related documents before the public hearing.

“Many of the questions I’ve gotten from the public are answered in there,” she said.

Council member Bob Hafferman was the only vote against scheduling the public hearing.

Pointing to city zoning regulations that list airports as a conditional land use, Hafferman said the airport issue should first go through a conditional use permit process with the advisory Kalispell City Planning Board.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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