Feb. 06--MEDORA -- Though it's too early to predict whether North Dakota's most-visited tourist town will get an airport, its city council on Tuesday night agreed to move forward toward a feasibility study.
In a 3-0 vote the council agreed to continue looking into the possible project that would include a meeting with North Dakota Aeronautics Commission administrators and other officials in Bismarck.
Councilmembers Denis Joyce and Todd Corneil were absent.
In December, Medora city officials received a letter from NDAC interim director Kyle Wanner, alerting to the fact that the city could soon lose out on potential federal funding program options -- which could pay for a large chunk of an airport's establishment and maintenance -- if it doesn't move to pursue an airport project.
"I asked (Billings) County if they had any opposition to proceeding with a study and they said no," Medora Mayor Doug Ellison said. "At this point, we still have a federal designation for an airport. But we're in danger of losing that if we don't use it. What I've wanted to do all along is just get some figures in mind."
Brian Rau, North Dakota liaison for the Recreational Aviation Foundation, said at the meeting that he believes there would be enough interest and plane traffic to justify an airport in Medora.
"Our organization tries to promote and maintain recreational airstrips," said Rau, a pilot and Medina businessman. "By definition, a recreational airstrip means there's something recreational to do on ground once you get there. It seems like every year, someone with the North Dakota Pilots Association asks when we're going to be able to fly to Medora. I think this has statewide interest and also reach into eastern Montana."
During January's council meeting, objections were raised about a potential airport with some residents citing concerns about historic nature and pristine Badlands setting, which could be disturbed by planes coming and going.
Councilman Kevin Clyde wondered whether Medora would have a suitable and available piece of land where an airport could go.
In the mid-1980s and again in the '90s, feasibility studies for an airport in Medora were pursued, but nothing ever materialized. The city was once home to a small facility called the Buddy Ranch Airport on land leased by the U.S. Forest Service at the top of a butte east of Medora for a number of years until it closed in the early 1980s.
In an email sent to The Press on Wednesday, Wanner said his agency looks forward to working with Billings County and Medora to see if an airport would make sense.
"With the current exploration of oil and gas in western North Dakota, and with the area being one of the state's largest tourist attractions, now is the time to determine if an airport would a benefit to the community," Wanner stated in the email. "We look forward to working with the City of Medora and the Federal Aviation Administration to complete a feasibility study that will be able to provide the local decision-makers with the information needed to make a sound decision."
In his letter to the city, Wanner stated that grant money would be available for up to 95 percent of the study's cost.
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