South Dakota Airport May Buy Land for a Clear Zone

May 20--The Aberdeen Regional Airport hopes to protect neighboring farms and businesses from the possibility of an off-course plane, and that could mean eventually buying land within zones of elevated crash risk.

The Federal Aviation Administration has recommended that all airports own the land within the runway protection zones. At the Aberdeen Regional Airport, these trapezoid-shaped zones are 1,500 feet long and 1,750 feet at the widest part of the trapezoid at the ends of the runways.

It is not required that airports own the land, but to assure there will be no future development in the zones, it is strongly suggested, said Airport Manager Dave Osborn.

He has not approached businesses within the protection zones. He is trying to get FAA permission to use airport improvement funds to buy businesses before he asks owners if they will sell.

"We're not trying to take property from anyone," Osborn said. "We're just trying to make it safe for everyone."

The runway zones were designed to protect residents and businesses, Osborn said. Although protection zones have been in place for years, they were recently extended.

A greater emphasis has been placed on the zones since a December accident, when a plane at Midway Airport in Chicago landed during a snowstorm and slid off the runway. From the runway, the plane entered a nearby road and crushed a car, resulting in the death of a 6-year-old boy.

"(The Midway accident) really opened everyone's eyes," Osborn said.

When Aberdeen's protection zones were extended, some existing businesses, including Animal Health Clinic and The Sportsman Sales and Service, became part of Aberdeen's north runway protection zone.

Rumors: Some believe the city is trying to buy the land so that it can turn around and sell it for future development. However, according to the FAA, "residences and places of public assembly" are prohibited from the zones. This includes churches, schools, hospitals, office buildings, shopping centers, restaurants and other similar places of public assembly.

Solution: The airport has two options for these properties, Osborn said. The airport could buy the land in the runway protection zones or the runway could be moved, which would be much more expensive, he said.

If he receives FAA permission to use the improvement funds, he will approach business owners.

"It's pointless for me to talk to the business owners if I don't have any money to purchase the land," Osborn said.

A small corner of the new Super Wal-Mart parking lot will be inside the runway protection zone.

"They're going to have red lights on top of their parking lot lights," Osborn said.

When Great Plains Bank began dirt work at its new site, Osborn began investigating immediately.

"I wanted to see their building permit, but was told they didn't have one because they were just doing dirt work," he said.

He insisted that a building permit not be issued until the bank had a 7460-1 permit, which is issued by the FAA approving the plan. The FAA issued Great Plains Bank a permit.

"It's a two-story building going up right outside the RPZ," he said.

The north runway protection zone ends at the intersection of Melgaard Road and Sixth Avenue southeast.

For every structure being built -- if businesses don't want to have to file a 7460-1 permit -- distance makes a big difference. For every 100 feet from the runway, a structure can be built 1 foot high, Osborn said. With that, if a farmer wants to build a barn 1,500 feet from the runway without filing for a 7460-1, it can be only 15 feet tall. If the farmer decides he or she wants the barn 1,500 feet away but 17 feet tall, a 7460-1 must be approved by the FAA.

"We need to keep an eye on what's developing around us," Osborn said.

One of the problems is that the rules have changed. The businesses that are in the zones now were there before the land was declared a runway protection zone, Osborn said. The Sportsman -- one of the businesses in the protection zone -- has been there since Osborn can remember.

"It's an old family business," he said.

The size of the runway protection zones are determined by the FAA. Osborn believes that there is no immediate danger in Aberdeen. Even if a plane did slide off the north runway, it would have to travel through an 8-foot chain link fence and a ditch before reaching any of the businesses, he said.

"For the size of the planes we have, there is more than adequate space," he said.

Reporter Jackie Burke; (605) 622-2303 or 1-800-925-4100 ext. 303; jburke@aberdeennews.com.

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