A $12 million upgrade to Winona's Municipal Airport Max Conrad Field is expected to improve safety and increase visibility at the aging facility. On Monday, the Winona City Council approved a $475,000 contract for engineering and design work as it waits to hear more about possible federal funding for the project.
The $12 million project was expected to be funded using Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds for 90 percent of the cost, and the city planned to borrow using bonds for the remainder of the expense. Now, it is uncertain when Winona may receive the federal dollars, but in order to proceed with the funding request, it must have design documents in place.
Michelle Baird, Project Manager with Mead & Hunt, will oversee the design plans. She told council members Monday that the airport project money is expected to be granted over several years. Earlier this year, she said, project officials were hoping to get $8 million in funding this year; now, it may be only $4 million. State and federal reimbursement money is expected to help cover most of the $475,000 design work, she added.
Winona Public Works Director Keith Nelson said that if Congress does not designate money to the FAA program, the city may have to foot the design work cost. The airport runways are deteriorating, he said, and either way, the project is needed. "If this project didn't proceed, I think it would be the beginning of the death of the airport," Nelson added.
A new glidescope antenna, part of an instrument landing system that will provide vertical guidance at the airport for the first time, is one component of the airport upgrade. New runway lighting is expected to increase safety and visibility, as well.
Several runway concepts were studied through an environmental assessment, but due to the surrounding wetlands, extending the main runway was found to be a complex task.
The runway 30 threshold will be shifted from its current position, and runway 12 will be extended for a total runway length of 5,679 feet and a declared distance of at least 5,199 feet — the current length. A compliant runway safety area will be created and the runways will be repaved.
About 2.46 acres of wetland will be filled for the project, which includes adding more than 100,000 cubic yards of fill material to an area of the gravel pit pond about 2.2 acres in size. The fill will require about 10,000 truckloads of sand. A Wetland Conservation Act Permit will be required for the project, which will outline the number of acres of wetland the city must protect elsewhere in order to replace the wetland disturbed for the project.
Over the last ten years, several other airport improvement projects have been completed. The east hangar has been expanded by about 8,300 square yards, a runway safety area along runway 12 was graded, a localizer antenna array was installed, an access road was graded, and a new six-unit hangar building was constructed in 2009.
The environmental assessment completed for the project identified 306 bird species in nearby Mississippi Refuge areas, with 27 species identified by Mead & Hunt officials who visited the airport site for the environmental study. Great Blue Herons were the most common waterbird identified, along with sightings of the red winged blackbird, turkey vulture, bald eagle, northern harrier and red tailed hawk.
The study did not anticipate an impact on bald eagles because no nests were found in the area. The study recommended the city establish a regular wildlife patrol and increase the frequency of patrols during spring and fall migration. It also recommended that the city obtain a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services depredation permit to "lethally respond to persistent protected migratory birds when non-lethal methods do not resolve the threat."
Additionally, the study recommended the city oppose any local developments that increase wildlife attraction to the area, ensure a local ordinance or policy that prohibits feeding wildlife is in effect and posted, and establish waterfowl hunting opportunities on airport property during the open season.