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Board to update Ronan Airport master plan

RONAN — Ronan Airport has been awarded a $202,642 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for updating the existing airport master plan study to show current and future needs of the airport. 

Rick Newman, Chairman of the Airport Board that includes Polson and St. Ignatius airports, stressed that the grant money is only for a survey that could take up to two years to complete.

“There’s not a shovel going to get stuck in the ground,” Newman said.

The aeronautical survey and airport master layout plan update is necessary every five years for Ronan Airport to continue to receive FAA funding. 

“Because they are a federal entity, there’s a whole long list of checks and regulations we have to go through every time we get money,” Newman said. 

Implementing the survey will involve public comment sessions that will be advertised “to make sure everybody knows about it,” Newman said. 

To update the master airport layout plan, the project will include flyovers to determine obstructions; a tracking system to record weather and track prevailing winds; documentation to see what type of aircraft uses the airport, and how often. Information includes approaches, and every hangar location is noted. The analysis can help determine and support future expansion, if necessary, at the Ronan Airport.  Because Polson Airport is book-ended by the lake and the river, it cannot expand.

“We have to show the FAA what we are looking at in the future, and that we are on top of it,” Newman said.

Every five years the board votes on which firm to hire to do the study. This year they hired KLJ Engineering Firm. 

The two-year study has a high price tag, and the Federal grant will only cover 90 percent of it. Airports must find funding for the matching 10 percent.

“It’s a chunk of money,” Newman said. 

Montana Aeronautics, a state board that is part of the Department of Transportation in Helena, is loaning the airport board $37,000 to cover the 10 percent match.

“The whole project right now, as it stands, is covered,” Newman said, but it’s still an estimate. Throughout the process, the project will stay accountable by turning in receipts and reporting to city boards and the county commissioners. The board reports to city and town councils because each airport is built on city land; however, the south half of Polson Airport is built on tribal land.

“(The FAA) puts everything on us to make sure it is done correctly,” Newman said. “The taxpayers can’t afford some huge amount because we made a mistake.”

Polson Airport also receives FAA funding; St. Ignatius Airport does not but receives some funding from Montana Aeronautics, according to Newman, such as recent grant money to repave the runway.

The airport board consists of five voting members — an elected member from each city plus two appointed by the County Commissioners — and a representative elected by the Tribe. The board pays for upkeep on the runways and receives no levy monies or city funding to support the airports, according to Newman.

Newman hopes the general public will take part in the survey even if they don’t use the airport directly. The public should take an interest because firefighters and emergency personnel use the airport to protect the general public, he noted.

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