Lake Elmo / City fears proposal to expand airport

A plan to extend a runway at Lake Elmo Airport is running into turbulence. Lake Elmo officials learned this week that the Metropolitan Airports Commission's airport expansion plan could mean changes to the city's Old Village development...


A plan to extend a runway at Lake Elmo Airport is running into turbulence.

Lake Elmo officials learned this week that the Metropolitan Airports Commission's airport expansion plan could mean changes to the city's Old Village development plan.

The MAC wants to improve the airport by extending a runway and adding hangar space. Plans call for the crosswind runway to be extended from 2,500 feet to 3,200 feet; it would also be lighted.

Regulations call for areas beyond runways to be clear of buildings, trees and other obstacles, and city officials fear the extended runway's "no-build area" could affect Old Village development plans near the airport. The city wants to add 600 to 1,500 new houses to the 300 homes already in the downtown area along Minnesota 5.

"We're concerned about how any improvements to the airport will impact the plans for Old Village," said City Administrator Susan Hoyt.

During a Lake Elmo City Council meeting Tuesday night, city officials asked for and received a 30-day extension to comment on the airport's long-term comprehensive plan. The deadline had been Tuesday.

Mayor Dean Johnston said the city's Old Village plans were put in place to help satisfy a request from the Metropolitan Council - which manages regional planning - that the city add thousands of houses.

"Having the airport there and the additional jet noise is certainly going to make it more difficult to accomplish what the Met Council is asking us to do," Johnston said. "It's simply not desirable to live next to an airport. Look at what they did in South Minneapolis where they bought up all those homes. Now, they want to expand to the area where we plan development."

Airports commission officials on Thursday would not comment on how the expansion plans might affect the Old Village plans.

Bridget Rief, MAC assistant director of airside development, said the runway extension is necessary to improve safety. She said the airport's primary runway, which is almost 2,900 feet long, would be improved but would not be extended.

The airport, which opened in 1949, has two runways and primarily serves private and recreational fliers who operate single- or twin-engine airplanes that can carry as many as 10 passengers.

It sees about 60,000 takeoffs and landings a year, and the MAC expects 90,000 takeoffs and landings there by 2025. The number of based aircraft, 236, is expected to increase to 313 during the same period.

"The extended runway will make the airport more usable by the aircraft using it today," Rief said. "We think it will provide for safer operations because longer runways always provide an extra measure of safety."

But some residents worry the longer runway will attract more airplanes, including corporate jets.

"We feel like we're going to be enabling people outside the community to take advantage of a community airport," said Paul Nielsen, who lives in the flight path of the current runway.

Nielsen said he and other neighbors also have concerns about pollution, noise, safety problems and property values.

Said Susan Dunn, a former City Council member who spoke against the expansion plans Tuesday night: "I don't think anybody is against them repaving what is already there or maintaining what they already have existing, but when you're expanding the runways, you're expanding the hazard areas, and that's not acceptable."

In addition to the proposed runway extension, plans call for the installation of a new weather observation station and the construction of 40 to 60 new aircraft storage spaces. The airport currently has 133 hangars with 256 aircraft storage spaces.

The MAC must submit its plan to the Met Council for review, but Rief said Thursday she was not sure when that might occur.

Mary Divine covers Washington County. She can be reached at mdivine@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5443.

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