Committee recommends moving airport

A special committee studying the future of the City of Monticello’s airport has provided clarification on one major point: The facility will not be able to continue operations at its current location just south of town.

Once that fact was determined, other landowners have come forward with possibilities for new locations, giving the group hope the city can still house a public airport. Two options were known when the report was issued, and two have come forth since then, according to the person who has headed up the group.

“The committee understands that at least one of those parcels has been evaluated at some point throughout the project’s history, and that, from an engineering perspective, it seems likely both options would be deemed suitable for a minimal airport,” Committee Chairman Mike Atwood said in a report delivered to the city on Nov. 9.

Time is running short, as the airport’s lease on its current site off Kratz Road expires Feb. 2, the same time state waivers expire which currently allow it to operate with line of sight and side runway transition deficiencies.

Although the official report has been delivered, committee members and other volunteers are still working to see if moving the airport is feasible. They hope the Illinois Department of Transportation/Division of Aeronautics will allow it to still be certified as a public airport if it is out of operation for a period of time.

The landowner at the current site – the Kratz family – has made it clear the land will go back into farm production next spring.

Atwood will give an update to the city council on Dec. 10, and feels more will be known by the end of the month.

“I feel like we’ve got good momentum. There are clearly some hurdles, but I feel like we’ve got good direction. We’ve got some options that appear to be feasible. But we’re going to have to hustle,” he added.

As for lease and construction costs, a local development agency has offered to fund at least a portion of the cost. Atwood said Monticello Industrial Action has about $400,000 in its coffers at this point.

An estimate provided by an ad hoc committee 31 years ago had pegged the cost to construct a new airport at $1.3 million, and the city council had also considered a $5.3 million hard surface option, but that option was tabled in 2006.

But Atwood feels the 160 acres of land needed for some of those options – and the proposed hard surface – were excessive. The current grass strip is on 18 acres of land owned by the Kratz’. A new facility would need around 25 acres to take care of the transition issues on either side of the runway.

With that in mind, he feels the cost to lay out a new landing strip could be funded by non-municipal sources.

“There is no consideration at all that you would have the city coming up with money,” said Atwood.

The facility is technically under city supervision, but is run day-to-day by Sage Air. The city only allocates approximately $5,000 annually toward airport operations.

In their report, the airport study committee admitted that some of the benefits of the airport are “difficult to quantify,” but feel it is still worth keeping.

“Access to general aviation strengthens the community’s infrastructure and provides tangible and intangible value to the area. It is yet another brick in Monticello’s strong foundation, which includes a remarkable school system, access to reliable water supply, strong independent healthcare, prosperous farmland, proximity to larger communities, and many more advantages,” said the report. “Every responsible effort should be made to maintain each element of Monticello’s economic foundation.”

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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