Time running out for Monticello airport

Time is running short for Monticello’s airport, which could end it’s nine-decade run as a local landing spot next February unless an agreement can be worked out to address side setbacks and line of sight deficiencies from one end of the grass strip runway to
the other.

The Monticello city council on Monday approved an airport committee to look into the issue and report back with recommendations for the city council.

The state has told the city that waivers issued in 2000 allowing the airport to operate will not be renewed after they expire on Feb. 2 of 2019. The site’s landowner has also told local officials they have no interest in continuing to lease the 18 acres the airport sits on. That lease expires at the same time as the state waivers.

Attempts to build a new facility in the past have stalled, so a grass roots group trying to save the airport told a Monticello Chamber of Commerce gathering on Sept. 6 that the best shot at remaining open would be to keep it at the same spot off of Kratz Road just south of Monticello – despite the hesitancy of the current landlords.

“As we look at the different options that are in there within the time frame that we are looking at, having really

exhausted many of the other options for a replacement facility, what we believe is left as the only option is looking to modify the existing airport to really rectify the site transition and line of sight issue along the runway,” said Brad Hamilton, the Director of Aviation Services at Crawford, Murphy & Tilly.

Those attending the Monticello Chamber of Commerce meeting last week were told the facility provides an annual $1.3 million boost to the local economy, according to a 2006 study done when the city attempted to build a new airport.

Pilot and aeronautics enthusiast Fred Sikorski told the audience that losing the facility would be a tough blow to the community.

“Tens of thousands of people come through this community because that airport is sitting there. They just might land on their way to Wisconsin, they may come to get work done on their airplane, they might come learn to fly or hang out with the glider club, visit friends. But they’ve got their on-ramp there, they can land. We don’t want to lose that dot (on the map),” said Sikorski at the lunchtime meeting.

During the presentation, it was also noted the airport benefits the community in several ways, from providing a spot for aerial crop sprayers to take off and land to emergency flights and recreational opportunities through the Illini Glider Club.

The city floated the idea of a new, hard surface airport in 2006, but that plan fizzled after not getting council approval. With time running out before the waivers and lease expire, Hamilton said the best bet for keeping the strip open to the public is to keep it where it is and address its issues, despite the current hesitancy of the landowner.

Former Monticello Chamber President Mike Atwood said a local economic development group may be willing to help fund the needed improvements, which include removing a high spot in the middle of the air strip and providing more side setbacks to meet state guidelines.

Airport proponents note there is little time to waste, and that work needs to intensify if the airport is to remain open.

“Action items we’ve identified are number one, do a little more definition related to what the improvements require and what would be the cost associated with that, and then really working with the landowner to see if there is interest to be able to lease or sell the necessary property to make that happen,” said Hamilton.

History
In 1925, the first airplane landed in Monticello, and three years later aircraft started to land in Kratz pasture near the current airport site. At that point, 6-foot-long arrows were painted on the roof of the school gym to help aircraft recognize the city and find their direction.

The airport became official in 1968 with permission from landowner Vivian Kratz. Sage Air was formed in 1988 to provide day-to-day operations, which it continues to do.

In 2000, the Illinois Department of Transportation notified Sage Air of a pending downgrade from public facility to a restricted landing area due to the line of sight and side setback issues. Waivers were issued to allow the airport to continue operating.

In 2015 a waiver extension was obtained, but the Illinois Division of Aeronautics has since told the city there would be no more extensions after the current lease expires on Feb. 2, 2019.

The current runway measures 2,798 feet long and 100 feet wide.

 

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