County praised for airport expansion


By BRUCE SYMES
Register Reporter


Allen County Regional Airport Manager Mitch Garner accepted a plaque from Don Copley of the Airport Advisory Board during a dedication ceremony to celebrate improvements to the landing strip.

Allen County has given area business and industry wings with its vision and commitment at its airport southeast of Iola.
Speaker after speaker connoted that message and its inherent compliment before about 65 people Saturday during dedication of Allen County Regional Airport. Purpose of the ceremony was to note completion of a nearly $2 million expansion of the facility that included lengthening the runway and building a return taxiway.
“A lot of people who have been able to see over the horizon know that to thrive in economic development, you not only have to get there from the north, south, east and west, but from the top as well,” Sen. Derek Schmidt, Independence, said.
Don Copely of Humboldt, who heads the Airport Advisory Board, introduced him as well as Rep. Bill Otto of Le Roy; Ed Young of the aviation segment of Kansas Department of Transportation, which helped fund the project; Jack Schaller of Allgeier, Martin and Associates, Joplin, which designed the runway and taxiway; Allen County Commissioners Walt Regehr and Dick Works; and Mitch Garner, airport manager who received a plaque citing the improvements.
Otto said local officials, not state lawmakers, were responsible for the project’s realization although the Legislature funds KDOT, which along with the Federal Aviation Administration split costs with Allen County. “The Kansas economy is like a snowball now, rolling along and continuing to grow,” Otto said. “Thank you for your contributions to our economy and for keeping the snowball rolling.”
Young brought congratulations from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and KDOT Secretary Deb Miller for the airport expansion, saying Allen County was indicative of improvements to aviation facilities across the state and were important to the economy.
The average length of runways at all state airports have been lengthened to “the ‘very good’ level, just short of ‘exceptional,’” he said. While one in four airports were rated poor, very poor or failed just a few years ago, only one in 20 receive those lowest ratings today. Both statistics are vital to local economies trying to retain and attract businesses and industries.
“It’s a beautiful runway and it’s a beautiful airport,” Young said, “and I congratulate you.”
Many speakers also praised the county and its public works employees for their role in making the airport expansion possible. While Allen County had to match KDOT and FAA grant monies, much of its share was in in-kind contributions such as dirt work and other preparations for pouring of the concrete surfaces.

SCHALLER, AN ENGINEER who has worked for the county since 1998 in planning and overseeing its airport improvements, said Director of Public Works Bill King and his crews never balked at the workload required to meet grant guidelines. “It’s very unusual to find a community to be so willing to do whatever it takes to make a project happen, but that’s what Allen County did,” he said.
Noting the recently completed runway expansion from 4,100 feet long and 75 feet wide to 5,500 feet long and 100 feet wide, and the construction of a 4,100-by-35 feet return taxiway, Schaller said his firm and the county were continuing to plan for the facility’s future.
“We’re not done,” he said. “We’re planning more projects to say ahead of the curve.”
Regehr and Works heaped praise on county employees, as well.
“We commissioners, we just get our names mentioned,” Regehr said, citing the work by King, Garner and the many Department of Public Works workers on hand for Saturday’s ceremony.
Works said King and his crew took on the challenge of the airport improvements and followed through with successful completion. “Bill convinced us that his workers could do a half-million dollars worth of work out here, which turned into almost $1 million, and they proved him right,” Works said. “They’ve done this and more, and when they finish a project, they ask for something else to do.”
Both commissioners referred to the hopes for fruition of the expansion by accommodating large corporate jets to serve existing and new businesses and industries in the county and region.
“Someday we’ll see one of those jets roll through here,” Regehr said, “and they’re going to like what they see and they’re going to tell people about us. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Works also pointed to the acres of undeveloped county-owned land surrounding the airport and put voice to the vision of it someday becoming home to one or more industries.
“If anyone knows of anyone who might be interested, let them know about us and let us know. We’d be happy to work with them,” he said.
Copely, who was joined at the ceremony by Airport Advisory Board members Jim Heffernon, Ken Johnson, Elvin Nelson, Ron Smail, John Croisant and Eugene Burrows presented a plaque commemorating the expansion to Garner for display at the airport office.