By Victoria Fregoso
HARDIN-Located just off of Interstate 90 outside of Hardin, a new airport is in the works. It will replace the current airport at the county fairgrounds. “The existing airport, while it enjoys a close proximity to town, has numerous obstructions around it,” said Airport Manager Ed Auker.
Obstructions like grain elevators, and hangars sitting along a runway that’s only 50 feet wide, making it a close call for pilots landing aircraft. “With those obstructions we haven’t been able to receive any funding for maintenance, so it’s been just patched together for years. It has been deteriorating slowly,” Auker said.
Besides private plane owners, the county expects to see some extra air traffic once the new airport is complete. “The commissioners see it as an economic development project for the area,” said Big Horn County Administrative Assistant Candy Wells. “With our folks with the coal industry and with the fishing and tourism, it will give them a little bit better opportunity to fly in for their business and their recreation,” Auker added.
90-percent of the funding for this $6 million airport comes from the Federal Aviation Administration. The remaining 10-percent of construction costs will come from the county’s coal development mineral royalties.
The county expects construction to continue this spring. Because of other unfinished projects in the county, like the jail, officials understand why some residents may be hesitant to begin a new one. But they say the future of this new airport looks promising. “Particularly if we were to build a substantial number of hangars, I think we can attract the number of the private aircraft out of the Billings area,” Auker said.
The county plans on taking bids this spring for phase two which includes paving the runway and electrical work. The goal is to have all work done in 2014.