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City, BLAEDC, Chamber speak out in support of sewer and water expansion to Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport

Time is running out for Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport to come up with a solution for its aging septic and water system.

The city of Brainerd, the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC) and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber have joined with the airport in support of the $850 million state bonding measure that would provide $6.5 million to help extend the city of Brainerd’s water and sewer connection to the airport.

The city’s sewer and water connection currently ends on the north side of Highway 210 near Lum Park approximately two miles west of the airport property.

Airport Manager Jeff Wig said he met with area legislators soon after he became manager in January 2013 to discuss the needs of the airport — including replacing the current septic system or somehow connecting to the city’s water and sewer and was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the legislators to pursue bond funding for the project.

“The airport is a regionally significant place,” Wig said. “(The expansion) would have other benefits to the community.”

Wig said the extension to the airport property is a good move for all parties involved. One of the airport’s long-term economic goals is to create 20 new jobs by 2017.

“This is not taking jobs from elsewhere — these are new jobs for our community,” Wig said. “Jobs our community needs.”

Currently, airport business expansion is hindered by limited well water and septic system access.

Inquiries from businesses interested in renting a vacant hangar at the airport hinge on the need for restrooms. Wig said with the current system, holding tanks would need to be pumped about every five weeks.

“It’s not a good selling point,” Wig said. “And that makes it a lot harder to grow jobs.”

Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO Matt Kilian said the airport in Brainerd is the fourth largest in the state and the only airport of its size that operates on well water and a septic system.

“We think about those types of systems as being in cabins but not in regional airports,” Kilian said.

Kilian said the chamber’s interest in the project stems from what the expansion will do for long-term growth for the airport that serves the greater Brainerd lakes region.

“We need economic growth,” Kilian said, adding that while the safety issues are important they aren’t the primary interest for the Chamber. The expansion would give businesses easy access in inexpensive infrastructure.

“When you bring (the water and sewer connection) out the airport, there’s that two-mile stretch that now becomes prime real estate for commercial development — that benefits our 900 chamber members and everyone else.”

Kilian said the airport’s top four customers — Ascensus in Brainerd, Graphic Packing in Crosby, National Joint Powers Alliance in Staples, and Landis+Gyr in Pequot Lakes — paint the picture of how regionally driven the airport it.

“We need to make the case that it’s a regional project with broader impact,” Kilian said. “You don’t have to dig too deep to find that out.”

BLAEDC Executive Director Sheila Haverkamp said economic growth along the Highway 210 corridor has been in discussion for many years.

“That whole eastern extension provides the city with numerous opportunities with jobs and economic expansion into the future,” Haverkamp said, adding business owners with property along the highway have expressed interest in the extension and what it would allow them to do if the infrastructure expanded.

Haverkamp said she has had the opportunity to work with companies that have shown interest in the former ATEK Companies property south of Highway 210.

“The conversation always ends up centering around what is the public infrastructure — what is available to serve this property so we can continue to grow and expand or physically locate there,” Haverkamp said.

Haverkamp said the expansion would also play a pivotal role in the development of a businesses park within the airport property — something has been a longtime goal of the airport’s development plans.

“It’s critical infrastructure to the economic growth of our community,” Haverkamp added.

The push for the expansion is something Wig said has grown out of necessity.

The airport is required by the fire marshal to have a new system in place by April 2016; which means either connecting to Brainerd municipal sewer and water or replacing the current system.

Wig said ignoring the orders of the fire marshal is not an option.

“They take away your right to operate in your building,” Wig said. “We’re not going there.”

Wig said the alternative to connecting to city water and sewer would be creating a pump and tank system that would cost “well into the six figures” and would require constant maintenance. “It would be a one-trick pony,” Wig said, adding that kind of system would only supply water to the main terminal and would not allow for future growth. “It’s a now or never type of thing for us.”

In addition to the $6.5 million that would come from the bond measure, Wig said that an additional $1.1 million would be needed to expand the system within the airport property. Plans to cover that cost included Federal Aviation Administration and Minnesota Department of Transportation grant funding, in additional funding set aside by the city and Crow Wing County designated for airport capital projects.

Kilian said the deadline set by the fire marshal creates a sense of urgency for the project.

“If our area doesn’t secure the bonding dollars this year, unless something changes, we’re not going to make that deadline,” Kilian said. “That’s why people are working on it to drive it forward. This is our best opportunity to do it.”

Kilian stressed the need to take care of the regional airport.

“It’s the front door into our community — It’s the first impression people get of the Brainerd lakes area when they fly in,” Kilian said. “It’s important to us that we pay attention to what the airport needs.”

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.