Airport future: First up is a meeting with landlord

A new lease on life for the Monticello airport will depend on whether it can get a new lease on the land where it sits.

That was the conclusion of a special committee tasked with making recommendations to the city council on the facility, which sits on 18 acres of land that is leased until next February. Landowners indicated earlier this year they will not extend the lease, and the state said waivers allowing it to operate with line of sight and runway side transition issues will expire at the same time.

At a meeting Oct. 2, committee members agreed there are four major steps needed to keep the airport open, but that all are moot unless a new lease from the Kratz family can be obtained.

Despite the family’s hesitancy, committee chair Mike Atwood felt it was still a possibility due to the civic-minded attitude of the landowners.

“These are good people. Fine people, very generous to the community,” said Atwood. “Hopefully they want to help here, too. Obviously we need to reach out to them.”

“There would be no interest in any offer put forward to do anything other than make them better off than they are today,” he added.

Atwood also felt concerns of a possible eminent domain process to acquire the acreage where the airport resides could also be alleviated if representatives could talk face-to-face with members of the Kratz family.

Committee members Gary Huisinga, Steve Tenhouse and Atwood were authorized to set up a meeting to determine what would need to be done to get a lease or ownership of the land. To comply with state requirements about 25 acres may be needed.

Huisinga echoed Atwood’s thoughts on the Kratz family, having dealt with them when the school inquired about land for a possible new high school south of Kratz Road.

Although the landowners eventually turned down the school’s request, Huisinga said it was “a very civil conversation. We just went on to Plan B.”

He pointed out that one of the Kratz’ concerns was that 35 to 40 acres for a school would get it too close to existing homes, but that the 18 acres which has housed the airport for decades may make it a less demanding request.

Helping the committee’s cause is a promise from the non-profit Monticello Industrial Action to help fund improvements needed for state approval. Not counting any land purchase, an estimate done several years ago pegged the cost to take a high spot out of the runway and increase the transition on the sides of the single runway at $223,000. Those were the deficiencies cited the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2000, which has allowed the facility to operate with waivers.

But IDOT/Illinois Department of Aeronautics told the city there would be no extension when those waivers expire, also next February.

After city council talks to build a larger airport at a different site stalled in 2006, an informal committee formed to continue discussing the facility, which is technically under city supervision but run day-to-day by Sage Air.

That first airport committee determined four things needed to be done by February to keep the airport’s public status intact:

1) Study and confirm physical site improvements necessary to satisfy IDOT requirements, which may include landing strip setback, drainage and leveling;

2) Renew lease agreement or purchase the land where the airport sits;

3) Request IDOT’s waiver; and

4) Begin the land work to satisfy IDOT requirements.

The work could not be completed by the time waivers expire in February, but hopes are that if a lease extension or land ownership can be presented to the state, it would convince them to extend the waiver.

John Miller, a city council representative on the recently appointed committee, noted that time is of the essence.

“Working with IDOT is very slow,” he said. “They get it done but it sometimes takes a while, so the sooner the better.”

Mayor Larry Stoner named the committee on Sept. 10, giving them a deadline of Nov. 10 to present a recommendation to the city council.

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