State shows support for modernization of Osage City’s airport

Photo by Rick Potter.

For the last couple of months there’s been a buzz about Osage City’s airport and the future of its expansion. But last week, the state of Kansas indicated its support for the airport as the Osage City Council approved two grants that will make repairs to the existing runway and hangar aprons.

The city was notified of the Kansas Airport Improvement Program grants in January, but the council postponed acceptance of the grants until its March 11 meeting due to scheduling conflicts with the engineer hired by the city to oversee the ongoing FAA project.

In front of a roomful of citizens last week, the city council unanimously approved the two grants, which are administered by the Kansas Department of Transportation. Discussion before approval of the grants included an inquiry from Osage City Council Member Leroy Stromgren about whether the grant funds include engineering fees. Tiffany Brown, of KDOT Division of Aviation, said the project estimates were developed by city staff and the city’s engineer, and the grant amount represented 90 percent of the estimated cost of the projects. She said she was unsure of whether engineering fees were included in the estimates, but any cost above the grant amounts would be paid by the city.

Stromgren said his concern was, “a lot of times we think we’ve decided to do something and then the engineering fees aren’t added on and then come up later.”

One grant will be for a maximum of $195,300 and will be used to repair, seal and mark airfield pavements on the existing runway, which will become a parallel taxiway to the planned new runway. The other grant, for up to $148,500, will pay to replace the aprons connecting the taxilane to the current T-hangar.

“This long range expansion program has identified this hangar to remain at the current location and operational during the 20-year planning period,” states the application submitted for the grant.

In letters from KDOT announcing the grants, it is noted that 95 applications were reviewed for the grants, with 27 grants awarded in the program, out of which Osage City received two grants.

“The competition for fiscal year 2015 funds was fierce,” said Kansas Division of Aviation director Jesse Romo in the grant announcement letters.

The total of KDOT’s grant awards for the 2015 projects was $5,281,444.

Some of the members of the audience indicated they were at the meeting because of concern that some council members are opposed to continuing the airport expansion project. The project began in 2010, and will construct a new 4,000-foot runway at a total cost of $4.3 million with the federal government paying 90 percent of that cost. Since the project began, the council has annually approved an airport capital improvement plan that lays out all project activities for the upcoming year, along with a projected timeline for completion. The proposed airport capital improvement plan for 2015 indicates the project would be completed in 2018. Slated for 2014 is completion of land acquisition and relocation of one displaced property owner.

Approval of the airport capital improvement plan was included on the city’s council’s agenda in January and February, but consideration was postponed due to the absence of Eric Johnson, of the engineering firm Kirkham Michaels. The discussion had been rescheduled from several meetings, and is now scheduled to be taken up at the March 25 council meeting.

One member of the audience at last week’s meeting, Casey Mussatto, asked to speak on the issue, noting he would not be able to attend the next council meeting.

Mussatto, who is chairman of Osage City’s industrial committee, a group tasked with seeking out and attracting businesses to the town, said that a modernized airport would provide an incentive for new businesses to locate in Osage City. Mussatto said he planned to submit information to the council before the March 25 meeting, including a written dialogue he had with an industrial prospect “stating their support and how they feel like it’s positive for the community and the future interest in locating industry in the airport area.”

He thanked the council for the approval of the state grants. Saying the federal upgrade to the airport was a similar type of funding source, he encouraged the council to support that grant also. He reminded the council that grants such as those approved at that meeting were important for small communities.

“Communities our size oftentimes struggle to have resources available to improve their facilities, utilities, and publicly-owned assets,” Mussatto said. “I feel like this is an excellent example how you continue to support improvements with the help of the state and I would encourage that same approach with help from the feds in the upcoming discussion.”

Audience members’ nods of approval indicated that Mussatto’s comments reflected the opinion of most of the citizens that filled the spectator section of the meeting room.

A brochure produced by KDOT about Osage City’s airport states, “Osage City Municipal Airport is an integral component to the state’s system of airports. The airport does more than serve the area’s businesses and recreational needs. It provides access to our nation’s air transportation network, provides community benefits, and generates economic activity.”

Since the continued postponement of discussion of this year’s airport capital improvement plan from January, a community conversation has been ongoing about the future of the project. In the past year, two land acquisition decisions on the project ended in tie votes, with Osage City Mayor Quintin Robert’s tie breaking vote allowing the project to continue.

Local barber and businessman Rick Potter has started a blog for the airport, on which numerous people have posted comments both anonymously and publicly, many expressing concern that the council will vote down the project. Comments and an informal poll on the site indicate a strong support by the community for the project. Potter’s site can be visited at www.osagecityairport.com. (Note: Osage County News has no connection with Potter’s blog site.)

In other business during the meeting, at the urging of Stromgren, the council approved paying up to $3,000 in engineering fees for construction of a new building at Jones Park for the Osage County Fair. A proposed agreement between the city and the Osage County Fair Association requires the new building’s plans to be approved by an engineer. The council also approved a fair board request that materials for the new building be purchased by the city, with the cost reimbursed by the fair board, to allow the materials purchase to be exempt from state sales tax. The council postoponed approval of the agreement with the fair board, pending the city attorney’s redraft of the contract to reflect changes proposed by council members.

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