FARGO — Hector International Airport is planning a list of projects that could fill part of a runway over the next few years, including a major passenger terminal expansion possibly starting in 2023.
Before the terminal effort, the projects total about $19 million in the coming year, Executive Director Shawn Dobberstein said.
The Fargo Airport Authority was short about $11 million, he noted, but they expected federal and state grants to help with the projects.
Dobberstein said a local share is also required. He was taken aback by a motion by Commissioner John Strand to end a two-mill property tax levy that is in the city budget for improvement projects at the airport.
The levy has been in place for decades.
The motion to end the two mills that raise about $1.4 million from the city's property taxes for airport projects failed with support from Strand and Commissioner Dave Piepkorn.
Dobberstein said the move would have delayed projects.
"It would set us back," he said.
Strand said he was making the motion as they move toward an independent Fargo Airport Authority that oversees operation of the airport. With that independence that has been a contentious issue for the past few years, he said, there should be an end to any financial aid to the facility.
"There should be clean separation," Strand said, with Piepkorn adding it was a "huge deal."
Mayor Tim Mahoney said the airport levy used only for construction or capital projects is built into their short- and medium-range plans, and the funding can be up to four mills.
The airport funding was part of the city budget that faces final approval in the coming weeks, Mahoney said, noting it should not be pulled out.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig, who along with Commissioner Arlette Preston voted to keep the levy in place, said the levy has been "steady" at two mills for many years and was a "normal procedure."
Preston thought there should be a better process to discuss the airport budget and operations, but Dobberstein said it was a part of the mayor's budget with all of the details about their revenue and spending submitted this summer.
"Everything is there for you to see," he said. "It's in the system."
Meanwhile, Dobberstein said the major projects in the coming year are a $7 million project to replace the concrete apron where aircraft can park. He said the original concrete installed in 1985 is at the "end of its life."
Other major projects involve the parking areas, where a $1.2 million parking lot exit plaza will replace the decades-old ticket booths, new parking entry equipment will be installed and an extra overflow parking area that is currently grass will be paved.
The plans also include $500,000 to study the terminal expansion project in the coming 10 months and another $500,000 for a new boarding bridge to airplanes that has worn out. Other planned work involves acquiring better equipment to collect de-icing chemicals, a cargo plane apron expansion and security system upgrades.
Dobberstein said the terminal expansion, the most visible to residents, would involve public input in the coming year or so as they hope to add four or five gates to the five currently in use. After the Airport Authority approves the terminal study, it would then go the Federal Aviation Administration for approval that could take up to three months.
"It's basically gate congestion," Dobberstein said in an interview before the meeting. He believes more airlines would offer flights if there were extra gates for boarding.
The project could also involve more food and dining options, new restrooms, Transportation Security Administration facilities and offices.
Airport boardings have been growing over the years, too. In June and July, Dobberstein said, boardings were the second-highest they've ever been in the summer months.
In July, there were 42,871 passengers, only 1% lower than in July of 2019, a record month of 43,437 passengers. He said there was a spike in demand with people having to use tickets they may have purchased last year during the pandemic, as flights skyrocketed across North Dakota and nationwide this summer.
Unfortunately for business, in the past 25 days or so, airlines have been reporting more cancellations because of the COVID-19 delta variant and other uncertainties, Dobberstein said.
Nonetheless, there has been steady growth in passengers over recent years that figures into need for more parking and terminal expansion.
Dobberstein also reported on several other private business projects on the massive airport grounds. They include a new United Parcel Service sorting facility, a Fargo Jet Center hangar and office expansion, a new Air National Guard Operations Center, a new National Guard Operational Readiness Center and a new Bemidji Aviation Hangar.