New Bowman airport meets delay from rain, sequestration

Trying to get a new airport established in Bowman County has not been easy work for the Bowman County Airport Authority board.

Passersby will see the dirtwork being done at the new location of the Bowman County Regional Airport south off Highway 12. (Photo by BRYCE MARTIN/PIONEER)

Passersby will see the dirtwork being done at the new location of the Bowman County Regional Airport south off Highway 12. (Photo by BRYCE MARTIN/PIONEER)

Posted July 11, 2013

By BRYCE MARTIN

Pioneer Editor

Trying to get a new airport established in Bowman County has not been easy work for the Bowman County Airport Authority board.

An evaluation of the existing airport to the west of the city of Bowman discovered major drawbacks to the runway, which led to the process of finding a sustainable location to create a new airport from the ground up.

The process began nearly a decade ago, when airport officials realized larger aircraft weren’t able to use the airport because the length of the runway was too short.

“Especially some of the oil field aircraft that would come in wouldn’t be able to leave safely with full fuel and depart out of here,” said Bob Morland, Bowman County Airport Authority secretary treasurer. “So we looked into adding a little bit onto the end of the existing airport to be able to accommodate that and that didn’t work; it created more questions than it did answers.”

Bowman County Regional Airport, classified as a general aviation airport, lost 150 feet of the northwest portion of the runway because of adjacent railroad.

“They were telling us we were going to lose another 150 feet in the future,” Morland said. “So it kind of started off looking at options on what we could do to get some of that back.”

The board conducted an evaluation of the airport and the study found that Bowman would need to start over in a new location.

The board soon after began examining all available options. Additional logistical problems plaguing possible modifications to the existing airport included wildlife and wetlands issues and lack of space due to the abutting railroad and highway.

The process to determine the next step was a long undertaking, Morland said.

“It took a long time, but most of it was just deciding what to do – do we expand, reorient and redo the existing and was that possible? Well, that turned out to be the least of the attractive options,” he said.

Five potential sites were chosen for the location of a new county airport. The location along Highway 12 ultimately was selected and the construction process began.

The current airport is 75 feet wide by 4,800 feet long. But there is 150 feet of unusable footage on the north end. It is usable for landing, but not ideal for takeoff, which requires more runway.

The new airport will feature a runway that is 75 feet wide by 5,700 feet long and entirely usable.

Light jets to small two-seat aircraft use the current airport, which Morland said the board hopes to improve at the new location.

“We’re kind of stepping up a category to be able to handle a little heavier aircraft,” he said. “There will be a lot of business travel that comes and goes.”

Right now, however, the timeline for the airport’s completion entirely is dependent upon further funding.

“If you’d have asked me in early spring, I would have said we hoped to have it by next summer. But right now, it’s not going to happen by next summer, I know that,” Morland said. “Maybe by the spring of 2015 would be my best guess right now.”

Airports typically are built using airport improvement funds, which essentially are fuel taxes. The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost, the state matches 5 percent and the local community has a 5 percent match.

The sequestration automatically imposed earlier in 2013 by United States Congress led air traffic controllers to consider closing some smaller air traffic control towers in less-populated areas.

“There was kind of an outcry that they had to stop that,” Morland said. “When they stopped that, essentially they took the money out of the airport improvement fund.”

There’s some uncertainty how much funding is going to be available, he said.

While Morland said the project would not be abandoned, the question of funding could mean an extended project timeline.

“We won’t really know that until after we get our bids and then see what funds the FAA is going to approve for the next phase of this,” he said.

The dirt-work contract was let last summer and is what current passersby see being done at the site. That work began in September and crews worked late into the fall, beginning again this spring.

That part of the contract was supposed to be completed in the third week of July, but it has been extended into the first week of August. In late spring, workers didn’t get started as early as they wanted to and had issues from the significant rainfall.

Phase II will be the surfacing and electrical work and bids for those projects will open July 18.

Upon completion of the project, the existing airport will be sold.

Contact Bryce Martin at bmartin@countrymedia.net.

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