BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison Airport Commission has accepted a tentative offer from the Great River Regional Waste Authority that will put $175,000 towards projects and grants for the Fort Madison Municipal Airport.
At a Monday meeting of the commission, members voted 4-0 to accept a one-time payment agreement from the landfill in exchange for not developing or using an east-west runway on the airport property. With the agreement in place, the landfill can do some expansion to the north and still have the required buffer zone from airport territory. Landfills attract birds and the Federal Aviation Administration requires a 5,000 foot buffer to keep excess birds from the takeoff and landing zones at the airport.
Negotiations began in 2017 and an initial offering of $70,000 to $80,000 was offered by GRRWA board chairman Brad Randolph in January. Randolph, also the mayor of Fort Madison, has stepped back from the process because of the potential conflict, but negotiations continued the first six months of 2018.
No one from GRRWA was present at the meeting, but commission member Bob Chestnut motioned to approve the latest agreement with the contingency that the agreement be voided if the landfill ever ceases to operate.
“I think the amount probably exceeds what we were hoping for,” said Chestnut. “As long as there is other wording in it, I think in regards to when the landfill closes that were not obligated under this agreement. Maybe we’d want to open it back up after they move someday, or the next generation may want to.”
Commission Chairman John Dearing said FAA officials in Kansas city told him the landfill should never have been built where it was because it violated the airport’s airspace, but the FAA has given its blessing to shuttering the runway during the term of the agreement.
“I’m assuming the FAA’s position on where we stand with that has something to do with (the landfill) coming back with a better offer,” Chestnut said.
The commission also said they would have to earmark those funds for needed projects and possible grants for additional funds so the city sees that it’s not being used for regular budgeted items.
“If we’ve got some potential projects that are directly related to this settlement, I would move that we accept this settlement,” Chestnut said.
Zach Pieper seconded the motion adding that the language needs to be in the agreement freeing the airport to reopen the runway if the landfill ever closed.
“The problem with this new income is that the city will find a way to cut our budget if we find new income,” Chestnut said. “If we get this funding, we’ve got to designate it and have the understanding with the city that it will not be used to replace budgeted items. Because there’s no reason we should have to live off this settlement instead of our budget and I can see that happening. Maybe not all of it, but little by little.”
Commission chairman John Dearing also suggested the agreement be looked at by City Attorney Robert Johnson before both sides agree with it. Dearing also suggested approaching the city for an advance on the money prior to the settlement, to begin some of the projects.
The commission agreed to hold a special meeting to approve the final language of the agreement once it has been received and reviewed by Johnson. At that meeting, Chestnut said the commission should also decide what part of the money is to go to airport projects such as four new hangar doors and new drainage tile on airport grounds, and what part of the money can be used for grant money to help with future projects.