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Cedar Rapids airport's Wings 2 Water initiative weathers challenging first year

Coronavirus, fewer passengers delay water quality not-for-profit's progress

Marty Lenss, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, talks in 2019 about the Wings 2 Water program, which
Marty Lenss, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, talks in 2019 about the Wings 2 Water program, which raises money for Linn County and Johnson County water quality projects. (Erin Jordan/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Eastern Iowa Airport’s Wings 2 Water initiative raised just under $9,000 in a challenging first year for the water quality program.

After raising $131,000 in time for the October 2019 grand opening, the airport faced myriad challenges when coronavirus curtailed air travel across the country.

“Unfortunately, it did slow us down a bit,” said Marty Lenss, director of the Cedar Rapids airport and a member of the Wings 2 Water board.

“We got our work cut out for us with COVID giving us a little setback, but we’re still motivated.”

The Eastern Iowa Airport’s passenger numbers were down 54 percent through the first 10 months of 2020.

That meant 54 percent fewer passengers saw the parking meter-themed donation containers or chose whether to round up their purchase to donate to Wings 2 Water.

“When our numbers drop 50, 55 percent, the revenues drop all over, and Wings 2 Water was part of that drop,” Lenss said.

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The Eastern Iowa Airport spun off Wings 2 Water into a separate not-for-profit organization in March.

Lenss said it’s a key step for expanding the program to the 184 other commercial airports in the Mississippi River watershed.

He had “preliminary meetings” with other airport directors — “a couple within the state as well as a couple outside the state” — about the program, but coronavirus halted any possible partnerships.

“New initiatives like this are just on pause,” Lenss said. “Hopefully by spring ... we could announce another airline partner or two.”

There’s a precedent for airports collaborating on charitable causes. The San Diego International Airport started The Good Traveler, a carbon offset program, in 2015. It now has partners at many of the busiest airports in the country, including in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.

With many projections anticipating an extended lull in air travel, the Wings 2 Water board also is considering partnerships in areas outside aviation.

“It also has given the board the opportunity to kind of back up, reassess and pivot,” Lenss said.

The total money raised — nearly $140,000 — has gone to the Linn County Conservation Board and Johnson County Conservation, Lenss said.

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“We have raised money and had a positive impact on two projects in each county,” Lenss said. “So we’re really, really excited about it.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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