Plans to upgrade Lake Elmo Airport rile nearby homeowners

On the left is the original proposal for upgrading the primary runway at Lake Elmo Airport. On the right is the revised proposal. (submitted graphic)
On the left is the original proposal for upgrading the primary runway at Lake Elmo Airport. On the right is the revised proposal. (submitted graphic)

Aging runway needs to be lengthened

Lake Elmo Airport’s primary runway must be lengthened to meet current Federal Aviation Administration criteria for the aircraft already using the airport. But even if there weren’t new standards, airport officials say the existing pavement is at the end of its useful life, and it needs to be reconstructed. 

Lake Elmo Airport is located on Manning Avenue just south of the Washington County fairgrounds and serves personal, recreational and some business aviation users in the eastern portion of the metropolitan area. The Metropolitan Airports Commission owns and operates this airport along with five others.

The MAC created a long-term comprehensive plan draft for the preferred alternative and submitted it for public review last June. Because obstructions on both ends of the existing runway make it impossible to extend the runway in the current location, the “Original Preferred Alternative” included relocating the runway 700 feet to the northeast and extending it from 2,849 feet to 3,600 feet. These changes required that 30th Street North be relocated around the new runway to intersect Neal Avenue, a quarter-mile south of the current intersection.

At a recent open house, the public voiced strong opposition to the proposed upgrades. Common concerns were for the potential increase in aircraft noise and traffic. Many also opposed taking right-of-way on Neal Avenue as a result of the 30th Street realignment. 

Because of these concerns, MAC staff prepared a scaled-back version of the Original Preferred Alternative. The new “Refined Preferred Alternative” includes a shorter runway length of 3,500 feet. It also includes the designation of a utility runway, which restricts the aircraft to be propeller driven and a maximum of 12,500 pounds. 

Both existing runways already have the utility designation, so that wouldn’t change when the new runway is built. This designation helps keep the runway alignment closer to the existing alignment.

With those changes, 30th Street North can be routed in such a way that it will meet up with Neal Avenue at its existing intersection, and the possibility of taking right-of-way from Neal Avenue properties is eliminated.

Neighbors worry about noise, home values

Last week’s public information meeting at the Baytown Community Center buzzed with dissatisfied citizens who opposed the refined draft regardless of the alterations made on their behalf. 

Karen Baltzer a West Lakeland resident who lives near the southeast end of the airport, said she dislikes the project because she expects increased noise near her home. She was OK with the current noise levels when she moved into her home, but she is not in favor of any increased airplane noise.

“It’s going to affect our ability to use our yards, be able to hold a conversation in our yards and our property values,” she asserted.

Brian Baldwin who lives on 28th Street near the airport was concerned about the possibility of hazardous cargo being flown into the airport. “All of a sudden there’s a potential that it’s in our backyard,” he said.

Baldwin, who flies commercial passenger planes for Delta Airlines, also questioned the need to increase the  primary runway’s length. 

Brad Cornell, a West Lakeland resident and business owner, believes that because small single-engine planes represent the majority of the aircraft using the airport, the larger twin-engine planes also using the space may not belong in the small-airport setting, even though they are flying safely.

“We have a mandate from Legislature to develop a system, so we look at what the demand is on this area,” explained MAC director, Gary Schmidt. 

The MAC is accepting written comments about the revised plan through March 9, 2016. The public can submit comments via email to lake_elmo_airport_ltcp_comments@mspmac.org.

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at akinney@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.

 

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