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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 23, 2018

Marion Airport wins state grant

By Makayla Tendall, The Gazette | Dec 13, 2017

MARION — The Iowa Department of Transportation Commission on Tuesday awarded more than $420,000 to the Marion Airport to widen and fix the facility’s runway.

The commission voted 4-3 to award the $424,620 grant, which is contingent on the city of Marion updating its lease with the company that runs and maintains the airport and the Marion City Council completing an airport zoning ordinance.

The Marion Airport is owned and operated through a public-private partnership between the city and LuxAir Aviation.

The airport has been privately owned, but the city bought land, including the runway and fixed-base operating building, in 2015.

LuxAir owns the surrounding land and hangars, and the city leases the runway and FBO building to the company. In exchange, LuxAir maintains the facility and surrounding land at no cost to the city and keeps any income from the airport.

In the past, the city secured three grants from the Iowa DOT — totaling $105,325 — to improve the airport’s infrastructure.

This week’s grant will go to repair runway asphalt and widen it from 26 feet to 60 feet, the minimum requirement for an airport that size, said Stu Anderson, director of the DOT’s Planning, Programming and Modal Division.

The grant was first discussed by the DOT Commission at its August meeting, but the decision was deferred until members could learn more about the airport.

During the comments section of Tuesday’s meeting, attorney Bill McCartan of Cedar Rapids asked the commission to vote no on the grant.

McCartan, with the Bradley & Riley law firm, was representing the Atlas Limited Partnership, a company owned by Terry Bjornsen, who has owned land south of the airport since 1995.

Given that an airport runway expansion would allow larger planes to land, Bjornsen is concerned about his ability to develop the land, McCartan said.

“Marion made promises to our client related to the zoning that would apply, ... including accommodating the airport,” he said. “Our client is going to insist on the enforcement of those promises.”

One of the conditions of the grant is that the city adopts a zoning ordinance and revises its comprehensive plan to ensure protection of airspace around the airport, “as well as coordinate future development in a manner that will provide for safe aircraft movement and airport operations,” Anderson said.

Another contingency requires Marion to update its lease with LuxAir to include language that says the lease is to “provide the citizens of the state of Iowa with a public airport;” that the city has final approval for projects related to the runway; and that state aviation funds will only be used for improvements or expenses related to city-owned airport land.

The public-private partnership was a concern for Commissioner Tom Rielly of Oskaloosa, a former state legislator.

“I do think we are putting the cart ahead of the horse here,” Rielly said. “My biggest problem is this is a new entity that we are working with. I’m concerned that the local share is only 15 percent in comparison to other public airports. We can have the conversation on how we’re going to start funding public-private partnerships (first).”

The majority of commissioners, however, thought making the runway safe by meeting the minimum width requirement was a more urgent priority and that commissioners can discuss public-private airport projects in the future.

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