By Ken Francis
Sherburne County may become part of a joint Airport Authority with Benton and Stearns counties in the future.
Tuesday during a workshop meeting, St. Cloud Airport Manager Bill Towle and Michael Williams, St. Cloud City Administrator, spoke with the Sherburne County commissioners about the possibility.
Williams said the state considers the St. Cloud Airport a Tier II airport.
“That means someday when the airport in the Twin Cities is full and all the transportation to that airport is full, St. Cloud will be a reliever to that airport,” said Williams.
Because of that designation, the airport gets state and federal support.
Williams said even though the airport is currently under the authority of the City of St. Cloud, it is much more a regional airport.
“The catchment area – the customers of the airport, is defined by a couple of studies. There’s 379,000 people,” he said. “If you had a map you’d see that covers an area much greater than the City of St. Cloud and even the immediate region.”
Towle said the 379,000 is a very conservative number. He said it doesn’t include Maple Grove, Anoka or even Elk River because the airport is very conservative when marketing to potential airlines.
“We do feel we’re going to capture in that area,” he said.
Williams said a study shows the current impact of the airport it $21 million, with another $10 million expected if commercial air service is added.
But the current model of a city-run “regional” airport could be improved.
“We asked ourselves, do we govern, manage and finance the airport as a regional transportation asset?” said Williams. “And I think the answer to that question is, no we do not. We have a St. Cloud airport. It’s managed, it’s governed and it’s financed by the City of St. Cloud.
Williams said the mayor and council are accountable to the citizens of St. Cloud, not to the rest of the region.
“They’re going to have to make decisions – hopefully with the region in mind, but really within the confines of another city department,” he said.
Williams said the airport needs the ideas and the financial strength from the region to succeed.
“So we’ve started this conversation about starting an airport authority,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with all three county administrators so far.”
He said they have met with the Benton County Board and will be meeting with Stearns County Commissioners in the next few weeks.