Weather Forecast


OUR OPINION: $4.50 airport fee is worth what it will buy

A couple of great truths exist about Grand Forks International Airport.

First, it’s vital to our economy. Between December 2013 and March 2014, there were 52,660 boardings at GFK, up slightly from the same period the previous year. We suppose most of those people live right here in the Greater Grand Forks region, but we know that many come from miles away — and especially from Canada.

And second, Grand Forks International is — for at least five months of the year — an airport that must deal with some of the nation’s harshest winter conditions.

That’s why we aren’t getting too worked up about a proposed extension of a user fee at GFK. The plan is to use a $4.50 passenger facility charge to help fund several snow-related purchases, including a runway sander, rotary blower and plow and a new snow-removal equipment building. Plans to reconstruct a taxiway and build a firefighting building also are included in the proposal, but the gist of the project revolves around issues related to our rough winter weather.

Actually, it is a simple extension of a fee that’s already been in place, and which helped build the new terminal at the airport. The Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority will likely soon get the process started by submitting an application to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Total collection to pay for the projects will be around $1.87 million, and federal money will have to be secured to complete the purchases. The airport has two snow-blowers that are roughly 30 years old and recently spent $87,000 repairing one of them.

Think about it: $4.50 per passenger to fund purchases that will allow local residents to more easily reach their wintertime destinations. Whether those trips are for work or play, they’re equally important.

It’s important to note the federal government is providing support to local air travel. Earlier this year, it was announced that Grand Forks International will receive more than $4.1 million to redesign and reconstruct part of its taxiway.

These are important projects, and they’re needed to continue and enhance economic development and quality-of-life factors in Grand Forks. Now more than ever, North Dakota is attracting businesses and people, and they require and deserve reliable air service. And don’t forget that thousands of Canadians – upwards of 250,000 per year – are annually crossing America’s northern borders to board planes in Grand Forks, Fargo, Minot and Minneapolis. It’s important for GFK to stay viable and competitive to attract those dollars to our region.

So, is $4.50 a big deal? We don’t think so, and we worry how the public will perceive it. After all, the proposal was the lead story on the front page of Tuesday’s Herald, and it also led the 10 p.m. newscast of WDAZ. If the general public balks at this proposal, maybe we’re partly to blame, although we do still maintain it is newsworthy.

In the end, the extension of the fee will help ensure reliable air service from Grand Forks. Mostly, it will help maintain service in the dead of winter, and that’s of utmost importance here on the northern plains.

— Korrie Wenzel for the Herald