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City may revamp airport runway

Staff writer

Marion’s vision for the future may include NASCAR drivers.

A grant application presented at Monday’s city council meeting could land a new runway at Marion airport. The main goal of this would be to allow for Eagle Med airplanes to use the airport, but council members discussed other possible benefits.

“NASCAR drivers, and this would boggle people’s minds, they look for airports like this, as small as they can find, to get in and get out,” Chad Adkins said.

NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer, a childhood friend of Adkins’, told Adkins it’s preferable to avoid major airports like Wichita Mid-Continental, and many opt for Newton’s airport instead.

“Those are things that we can’t even predict, but it’s just an opportunity to get people stopping,” Adkins said.

What is predictable is the additional medical capabilities that come with having a runway large enough to support Eagle Med planes. Seen as the main benefit of the project, it would help fulfill the state’s goal of having Eagle Med access within 30 miles of every Kansas resident.

“We’re right in the middle of — they call it a ‘black zone,’” city administrator Roger Holter said.

The county has access to Life Team helicopter services, but airplanes can fly in more hazardous conditions than helicopters and can travel longer distances in less time.

The cost to the city could be large, despite the grant offering a 90-10 percent split of funding. Marion’s 10 percent portion could cost as much as $350,000, which would include land acquisition.

The longer runway, which Evans, Bierly, and Hutchinson Engineering deduced would be cheaper if built anew instead of modifying the existing runway, would require the acquisition of land from at least two neighboring landowners, Holter said.

Normally, KDOT doesn’t contribute to land acquisition purchases, Holter said. However, given the desire for increased medical accessibility, Holter said KDOT is “willing to entertain” a 90-10 split on the land acquisition in addition to the other project costs.

The runway measures 40 by 2,573 feet. The new runway would be 60 by 4,200 feet, Holter said.

Holter said he spoke with St. Luke Hospital CEO Jeremy Ensey, who said the hospital could benefit from Eagle Med access. The airport board also voiced approval regarding the longer runway.

Holter left the question to council members although two members, Melissa Mermis and Jerry Kline, were absent.

“Is this a desire of this council to look into? Is this pie in the sky?” Holter asked. “As a small town, does it make sense to invest … probably in the neighborhood of a quarter million to $350,000? Our portion coming from municipal taxpayers.”

Holter emphasized that the proposal would take years to execute — probably five to six years before the new runway would be completed — and that the project may not be able to get off the ground if neighboring landowners are unwilling to sell their property.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said the possibility of enhanced medical services is enticing.

“Even if this costs us $350,000, if we’re able to save one life because we’re able to bring a plane in here, I think that is an excellent investment of our taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Council did not have any decision to make, but voiced approval to administration to move forward with information to apply for the grant.

“Until we have more information that would lead us down a ‘no’ path, we need to proceed,” Heitschmidt said.

Council did approve via a vote the application for a grant that would install electronic payment options for airport fueling. Holter said pilots can only refuel with cash or must be approved to write a check.

Holter said the grant application deadline is Sept. 30, and the earliest work could begin is in January of 2017.

In other business:

  • Council elected to apply for a transportation alternative grant to improve downtown aesthetics, which it has applied for and not received twice in the past.
  • A discussion pertaining to an article and editorial in last week’s Marion County Record about councilman Jerry Kline’s opposition to certain council decisions was postponed because Kline and Melissa Mermis were not at the meeting.
  • Municipal court judge Randy Pankratz was appointed as hearing officer for nuisance property public hearings.

Last modified Sept. 16, 2015

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