Federal Aviation Administration And City At Odds Over Airport


By Jon A. Brake

The Federal Aviation Administration and the City of Manhattan are at odds over the past and future of the Manhattan Regional Airport.

The issues are:

1. Two detention ponds built as part of the Manhattan Corporate Technology Park, were built without giving FAA notice before construction. The second pond was built knowing the City had problems with the first.

2. The placement of the detention ponds within the Object Free Area of a runway.

3. Money used to build the second pond was grant money from another project. Money to be used in the future for the maintance and upkeep could also be a problem.

4. FAA does not agree with the City on the future of Manhattan Regional Airport and a need for a longer runway for military deployment.

The first issue is a big item.

A November 16, 2001 letter from the FAA states: "In this instance the determination was made in our letter of November 23, 1999 that the detention facility is objectionable. We reaffirm that determination for numerous reasons including, but not limited to: violation of the Object Free Area, potential wildlife hazards, non aeronautical use of land purchased with AlP funds, violation of Grant Assurance 29, potential or actual obstruction of the runway visibility zone, and potential use of airport revenue to construct or maintain facilities not required for airport purposes. We, therefore, request that the City of Manhattan remove all construction relating to the detention ponds on airport property and restore the property to a condition that meets airport design standards and is acceptable to this office."

City Manager Ron Fehr has held two meeting with FAA Planning Department. In a December 21, 2001 letter to the FAA Fehr said: " It is clear that the approved ALP did not include the first detention basin prior to construction. The City identified this basin during the Master Plan update, which had begun a few months before the construction of that detention basin. The current. approved ALP (June 20, 2000) does now include that basin. The City regrets that error."

Fehr told the Free Press Tuesday that he is working with FAA to make modifications to the first structure to bring it into compliance with the object-free area.

As for FAA money being spent on projects not approved by FAA, Fehr said this in a February 13, 2002 letter: " I wanted to touch briefly upon the issue of revenue diversion for the structure. Highlighted in blue on the plan view map is the original Airport boundary line fence that existed prior to the City’s purchase of the Corporate Technology Park. As I stated in our meeting, prior to the City purchasing this land, drainage in this area of the Airport as well as adjacent private land was subject to periods of standing water. When the City purchased the adjacent land for the Corporate Technology Park, substantial drainage improvements were made to the Park helping to improve drainage. Also, in designing the first detention structure, the City believed it would be more practical if the detention structure was located entirely on one property, and thus in its annual boundary survey deeded that portion to the west of the blue line to the Airport. Thus, the City has already made a substantial investment in this project through expenditures in acquiring the land and in developing a portion of the improvement on land that was part of the Corporate Technology Park. We are confident that we will be able to show a substantial benefit to the Airport as well for determining this location as the best location, not only for the Airport, but for the adjacent property. If the land had all been Airport land initially, there is a high probability that this site would be the best location for this detention structure."

What about the future of the Manhattan Airport? Here is what the FAA said in a December 20, 2001 letter to the Airport Director: "We wish to first address the future runway requirements which we have previously discussed with you.. The proposed runway extension shown on the draft ALP, is not needed for civilian use and, therefore, any costs associated with the proposed runway extension are not eligible for FAA participation."

The FAA sees this airport for civilian use only but if the City and military want something different they must look to the military for money not FAA.

The City has know of this problem since the November 23, 1999 letter but the City Commissioners were not told until the Free Press started asking questions this week.

Not only were they not told but the City Commission approved the construction of the second pond without being told of the problems with the first pond.