It’s the pilots who come to Lake Elmo Airport on Saturdays to practice their touch-and-go landings that drive Mitch Despen crazy.
“We’re under the flight path, so I listen to these things all day long some days. Weekends are horrible,” said Despen, who lives south of the small airport just outside Lake Elmo in Baytown Township.
“There are days when I have a plane going over my house every three minutes for hours. All these pilots have to do a certain number of (touch-and-go landings) every month to stay qualified. If you get five or six guys who come out on the same Saturday to do eight or 10 touch-and-go’s each, that’s 50 flights over your house already.”
Despen is worried the airport noise could get worse with a proposed $11.5 million runway construction and extension project at the two-runway field. He plans to express his concerns next week at a meeting with officials from the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates the reliever airport.
The airport’s 20-year plan calls for relocating and extending the 2,850-foot primary (northwest/southeast) runway to 3,600 feet. The new runway would run parallel — about 700 feet northeast — to the existing runway; the existing runway would become a taxiway.
The airport’s crosswind (northeast/southwest) runway would remain in use and be extended from 2,500 feet to 2,750 feet. It would be lit for nighttime flying.
West Lakeland Township supervisor Dave Schultz said longer runways could lead to use by bigger planes.
“I think people are comfortable with what’s there today, but they’re not comfortable with what’s being proposed,” Schultz said. “There would be potentially a lot larger planes coming in.”
MAC officials expect the airport, which has no control tower, to continue being used by mostly recreational, training and small-business planes, said Neil Ralston, airport planner. He said the plan would improve safety and operational capabilities; construction could start as soon as 2017.
“We’re not designing it to be a jet airport,” Ralston said. “We’re not trying to change the role of the airport. This plan would allow the airport to accommodate a wider range of propeller-driven aircraft and replace some of the single-engine/recreation airplanes, which are declining, and replace it with business travel.”
He said the proposed expansion would better accommodate propeller-driven aircraft with fewer than 10 passenger seats.
“We believe that availability of a 3,600-foot-long primary runway will improve the airport’s ability to compete for additional business-related flights that use turboprop aircraft,” he said.
“We want to see more of the bigger airplanes that occasionally use the airport today.”
Based on information from the Federal Aviation Administration and aircraft manufacturers, the airport’s primary runway isn’t long enough to “efficiently accommodate the propeller-driven aircraft currently using the airport,” Ralston said.
Open since 1951, the airport handles about 26,000 takeoffs and landings a year. The MAC says that number could increase to as much as 27,000 by 2035 — “very similar to existing activity levels,” Ralston said.
He said 204 aircraft are now based at the airport, and he expects that number to remain about the same.
Ralston said it’s time to replace the primary runway’s aging pavement and subsurface, and plans to build a longer primary runway have been discussed for decades.
Although MAC bought the land needed to accommodate a longer runway in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he said, other needs delayed expansion.
“We think now could be a good time to advance this project,” Ralston said.
He said another factor is the FAA’s renewed push to enforce its “runway protection zones.” The zones lie beyond the ends of runways and are supposed to be kept clear of structures, public roads and railroads to enhance safety.
The Lake Elmo Airport’s protection zone for the north end of the existing primary runway falls over Manning Avenue and the Union Pacific Railroad and onto about 5 acres on the west side of Manning in Lake Elmo.
“The FAA has advised us that they would expect us to purchase this property within the protection zone if the existing runway alignment was left in place,” Ralston said. “With the proposed plan, all runway protection zones fall on property that the MAC already owns.”
Part of the project includes realigning 30th Street North around the south end of the relocated runway on airport land, he said.
Schultz, the township supervisor, said he opposes MAC’s plan to move the road, which is owned jointly by West Lakeland Township and Baytown Township.
“This impacts the entire township,” Schultz said. “If they’re going to take and build the road on their parcels of land, they should be responsible for maintaining the road.”
He said about 2,500 vehicles use the road daily. “This would definitely change those traffic patterns,” Schultz said.
Despen, a retired truck driver, said he will lobby against the expansion.
“We don’t want the airport expansion. Period,” he said. “I’m just flat-out, dead against it. If this thing goes through, honest to God, I’m moving.”
Mary Divine can be reached at 651-228-5443. Follower her at twitter.com/MaryEDivine.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission will hold information meetings to discuss its 20-year plan for the Lake Elmo Airport at:
— 4-7 p.m. July 9 at the Baytown Township Community Center.
— 4-7 p.m. July 16 at Lake Elmo City Hall.
The airport’s draft long-term comprehensive plan is available for public review and comment; the 45-day comment period ends at 5 p.m. Aug. 5.
For information, go to metroairports.org/General-Aviation/Airports/Lake-Elmo.aspx.