MARION — More than a dozen landowners and others showed up Thursday evening to tell the Marion City Council what should — or should not — be done to the city’s airport.
The discussion took two hours, with the council eventually deciding to table an amendment to the city’s comprehensive and land-use plan that would establish airport and airport overlay zones.
The city bought the airport in 2015 and is now wrestling with zoning it, which it has to do before it can access a $475,000 state grant. The grant will help pay for widening the Marion Municipal Airport’s existing runway from 32 feet to 60 feet, a project expected to cost around $4 million.
When the city bought the airport, it was required to put together an airport layout plan. That plan calls for eventually extending the north-south runway 3,775 feet to 5,600 feet and adding an east-west, 5,400-foot runway.
No money has been budgeted for those improvements. Meanwhile, the city’s comprehensive and land-use plan has to be brought into agreement with the airport layout plan.
Some of the council members said they were interested in seeing the impact of just rezoning and improving the existing runway before thinking about further expansion.
Others wondered what a full airport buildout would cost and when the city might be able to afford it.
Council member Steve Jensen said his emphasis in the coming years for capital improvements would be spending on parks, sewers and streets and that a full airport buildout would not be his biggest funding priority.
“There are times I’ve been on both sides of the fence, for a lot of very good reasons,” he said. “One, I am a strong believer in long-range planning ... I am completely in favor of expanding and widening the current runway. I do believe expanding that and improving that to 60-foot-wide, adding the lighting, is certainly a safety aspect that is important and is needed.”
Council member Will Brandt said he was on the council when it adopted the airport layout plan. He said it’s worth protecting the space around the airport, even if expansion is decades down the road.
“I still think we need to have an (airport layout plan) in place so that we protect that land out there in case it ever is needed,” he said. “It could be 50 years from now before we get an east-west runway. We don’t know that yet. But we still need to have that plan in place to protect it.”
The speakers opposed to airport expansion were mostly local landowners, who expressed concerns over noise, should their land be purchased, and how an expanded airport might affect their farms — cows’ milk production or the building of tall grain elevators.
Laurie Copper, who would live under the airport overlay zone, spoke about a number of concerns, including that she didn’t have recourse in City Council elections because she is a county resident. But it’s her property that would be affected.
“We can come here and talk to you, but we are not citizens of Marion,” Copper told the council. “You kind of put us in a position where we don’t have a voice.”
Speaking on behalf of the economic and safety benefits to improving the runway were the airport’s previous owner, Jan Walton, P&N Charter Flight School President Cole Norton, Marion Economic Development Corp. President Nick Glew and Marion Airport Commission Chairman Tim Shaffer.
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