Another commuter airport expansion?by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Dozens of angry neighbors packed the Anoka County board room today, to oppose a plan to expand the airfield in Blaine. An air services company wants to add 1,000 feet to the airport's runway to make it a center for corporate aviation. It's part of an overall strategy to use the commuter airports in the Twin Cities for more traffic.
Blaine, Minn. — Blaine is probably best known for the soccer fields at the National Sports Center, not as a corporate center. But an airport expansion could draw more corporate jets.
The existing small airfield already sees some traffic. It's right next to the Tournament Players Club golf course, and Medtronic has a huge office center there.
Anoka County officials point out the hangars in Blaine were full up for the Republican National Convention in September.
But the current runway, which is just under a mile long, makes the Blaine airport difficult for the biggest corporate aircraft, like big Gulfstreams, to take off under some conditions.
Anoka County Commissioner Scott LeDoux says a longer runway will make the area more attractive to business traffic.
"Economic development in our county is important," LeDoux said. "People flying in, CEOs flying in all the time, and they look at our land, our vacant land. We need to develop that in industry."
Dozens of angry neighbors showed up at the county board meeting opposed to the whole idea.
Some say they moved up to the northern suburbs to get away from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. They said they feel like the problems from that airport are following them, and they want to stop it.
But the Anoka County Regional Airport seems to be looking to the future. It's already added an instrument landing system for all-weather operations, added 1,000 feet to the old runway and partnered with Key Air, an air services provider, to upgrade the airport.
The neighbors think yet another 1,000 feet will open the door to round-the-clock air traffic, and even cargo services will take off and land right over their rooftops.
Kevin Amundson is a Centerville resident who's not pleased at the prospect of life next to a busy airport.
"I don't mind small airports. Centerville gets a lot of traffic. There is a sea base on one of the lakes right next to us (with) a lot of planes flying low. There is a lot of corporate jets coming out of the Anoka County aiport right now. I don't mind that," Amundson said. "I would mind cargo jets, FedEx, UPS. Those are the ones that I'm not wanting 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Even with additional runway length, the Anoka County Regional airport can't take flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport. That's because its runways aren't thick enough to handle a fully loaded cargo jet, even if they were long enough.
But that extra 1,000 feet is important. It changes the Blaine airport's stautus from what's called a minor use airport, to an intermediate airport.
The other intermediate airport in the Twin Cities is Holman Field in St. Paul, and that's home to 3M air traffic and the Minnesota National Guard.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission has a stated goal to move as much general aviation traffic, such as corporate flights, away from Twin Cities International as possible.
It's part of a decision by the Metropolitan Airports Comission and the state Legislature to keep Minnesota's main airport where it is.
That means takeoff and landing slots, taxiways and passenger space will become more and more of a premium as time goes on. The battles over air traffic and noise are increasingly going to be moving away from the airport.
The debate in Anoka County is similar to an issue in downtown St. Paul, where neighbors fought a dike project for years because they feared it would make Holman Field more attractive as a business aviation center, and there would be more and more traffic above the homes in nearby neighborhoods.
The same goes for Flying Cloud airport in Eden Prairie, where runways have been lengthened. The business community thinks it's a great economic development tool, but the neighbors want peace and quiet.
As for the Anoka County project at the Blaine airport, a county board committee needs to approve this idea for the project to go forward.
This time, Anoka County commissioners tabled the issue. They've decided to get a little more input on the idea, and will hold a public meeting about it at the Kingswood Chruch in Blaine on Dec. 2.
- All Things Considered, 11/18/2008, 4:54 p.m.