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Grand Forks International Airport acquires city land for runway expansion project

At an airport board meeting on Thursday, April 22, Ryan Riesinger, executive director of Grand Forks International Airport, told board members the city of Grand Forks has agreed to turn over about

Grand Forks International Airport 2021.jpg
Grand Forks International Airport, as seen in 2021. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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The Grand Forks Airport Authority has acquired some of the land it needs to carry out a planned expansion of the airport’s crosswind runway.

At an airport board meeting on Thursday, April 22, Ryan Riesinger, executive director of Grand Forks International Airport, told board members the city of Grand Forks has agreed to turn over about 32 acres of land to the Airport Authority, at minimal cost. That parcel, which lies on the east side of the airport, is one of four the authority needs to acquire.

“The only cost will be any fees associated with that transfer, so that was positive news that is moving forward,” Riesinger told the board.

The remaining three parcels are located on the airport’s west side and are privately owned.

The board has already notified the three private landowners of their intent to acquire their land, and Riesinger said letters with offers of compensation have been sent to them. The Airport Authority is prepared to use eminent domain to acquire the land if it becomes necessary. The land is needed to expand the airport’s second runway, to accommodate for commercial use, should the primary runway be closed for repairs.

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Toward the end of the meeting, which was broadcast live due to coronavirus concerns, board members went into executive session – a closed portion of the meeting – to discuss their land negotiation strategy. At that point, a Herald reporter covering the meeting was ejected from the online proceedings, and not just the executive session. Board members have been meeting in a hybrid format, with some joining online and others present at the airport’s meeting room. After the meeting, Cynthia Pic, a Grand Forks County Commissioner and airport board member, told the Herald the board took no action after the executive session, and adjourned shorty thereafter. Riesinger said much the same.

According to Jack McDonald, an attorney representing the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Herald, open meeting laws were not violated since no action was taken after the meeting, except to adjourn. However, members of the media should be allowed to return to a public meeting after an executive session, and watch until its conclusion.

“That's where they fell down on this one,” McDonald said.

Prior to the executive session, airport board members:

  • Transitioned from using CARES Act funding to Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act funding. The airport received an $18 million grant in April 2020 via the federal CARES Act. CRRSA funding is more restricted, but can be used to cover airport operations and other expenses. Making the switch in funding models allows the airport board to use its CARES Act dollars for capital development projects. At present, the board has used about $4.7 million of its CARES Act money, and the remainder needs to be spent by June 2024.

  • Authorized spending $4 million in CARES Act funding to purchase: a new airport rescue fire fighting vehicle, two new runway snow blowers and various other equipment. The old equipment will be sold when the replacements arrive.

  • Approved spending about $100,000 for a preliminary design of a new U.S. Customs Services building. The current building, Riesinger noted, is slated for demolition and is in an inconvenient location for people who use the facility.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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