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Airport commission: Commission talks utility project costs

The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport commission Thursday talked about ongoing delays in the airport utility extension project. When complete, the project will bring Brainerd Public Utilities water and sewer service to the airport. Tom's Backhoe Se...

Photographs of and from planes - through aerial photograph - decorate the walls at the airport.
A sign in the terminal of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport welcomes travelers in this file photo.

The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport commission Thursday talked about ongoing delays in the airport utility extension project.

When complete, the project will bring Brainerd Public Utilities water and sewer service to the airport.

Tom's Backhoe Service is responsible for installing water and sewer lines from the city of Brainerd to the airport property boundary. Tom's Backhoe Service's part of the project has experienced multiple leaks since being deemed substantially complete last fall.

The airport bid its own project. The two utility projects are independent, but related as they will connect to each other. Ryan Contracting completed the airport project last fall, installing water and sewer infrastructure on the airport property. Ryan Contracting's project passed pressure and bacteria tests last fall and is ready to connect to the project Tom's Backhoe Service is working on, when it is complete.

Last month, the airport commission decided to send a letter to the city of Brainerd asking when the two utility projects could be connected. The letter also stated the airport will incur a cost from bringing Ryan Contracting back to connect the lines. In response, city Engineer Jeff Hulsether in a letter told the commission both water and sewer systems would be available to the airport by June 2. On Monday, the Brainerd City Council approved a sixth change order for the city portion of the project, which moved the project final completion date from Dec. 14, 2016, to June 2.

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Commission chair Andy Larson Thursday said he was concerned the decision to move the project final completion date was made unilaterally. He again cited the remobilization costs related to bringing Ryan Contracting back to connect the lines.

"The decision to extend to June 2 was not made with any consultation on our part," Larson said. "Going forward, I hope that there's more of a sensitivity to that."

Airport Director Steve Wright said he has been talking with city finance director Connie Hillman about recovering remobilization costs through various connection and service fees.

In other business, Wright said he is in early discussions with a group of other airports develop a direct flight from Brainerd to Nashville, Tenn. Unlike the flights from Brainerd to Laughlin, Nev., this new route would not be sponsored by a casino, Wright said. The group is working with Sun Country Airlines, but Wright noted he has not spoken directly with the airline about the potential route, which is still in the early stages of development.

Brainerd would need to support the flight on its own, Wright said, which means the flight would need to be filled with passengers from Brainerd. This differs from the Laughlin flights, which leave the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and stop in Brainerd to pick up more passengers before heading to the final destination.

Nashville is a very popular travel destination, Wright said, and the flight would be every 8-10 weeks, which is less frequent than the flights to Laughlin.

"There's a lot of neat things to do there," Wright said.

The last Sun Country Airlines flight in early May to Laughlin was the first time one of those flights was filled by Brainerd passengers, Wright said. This meant the flight did not start in the Twin Cities before stopping in Brainerd on its way to Laughlin.

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"We want to keep growing that," Wright said.

Commission member Marty Johnson was absent Thursday.

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This story has been updated to clarify who Wright is working with to develop the direct flight to Nashville. 

The Dispatch regrets the error.

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