Aerial photo courtesy Emily Reimer/Skydive Kansas
Plans discussed at an Aug. 25 meeting detail the future expansion of the Osage City Municipal Airport. The plans, seen here overlaying a current photo of the airport, call for the acquisition of 130 acres of private land (outlined in blue) for a new runway.

Wayne White
| Managing Editor

OSAGE CITY—After almost 25 years of planning, a $4 million federal project is on final approach to Osage City’s airport. With approval of the project by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2006, the next step is to acquire land for the runway expansion, explained Osage City Manager Nick Hernandez during a meeting held last week to provide information about the project to citizens and affected landowners.

As planned, the project will add a longer runway east of the existing airport, requiring the acquisition of about 130 acres of private property and easements. One residence with outbuildings is in the path of the proposed project, which will also require closure and relocation of a township road adjacent to the airport. Other affected property is primarily farm ground. Hernandez said six property owners have land in the project area.

During the Aug. 25 meeting, attended by about 25 people, Henandez outlined the history of the airport, which was first considered in 1946. At that time, the Osage City Council approved an ordinance calling for a special election to gain voter approval to acquire, develop and equip a municipal airport. The proposition passed by a slim margin, 239 votes to 224, and the council approved issuing bonds for a new airport.

In 1969, paving of a 2,600-foot runway was completed, and the following year, the Osage City Chamber of Commerce proposed the organization would purchase lights and poles if the city would install and wire the lights.

By 1976, lack of proper maintenance led to council discussion of funding airport needs. In 1983, the city constructed a road at the airport industrial park and installed utilities. That year also saw damage to the taxiway from use by the nearby National Guard armory.

“Armory personnel went on the taxiway and pretty much destroyed it,” Hernandez said.

That damage and continued degradation of the runway led the city to continue to seek outside funding for the airport.

In 1985, Osage City was accepted into the FAA’s national plan of integrated airport systems.

In a letter to then-mayor Dwight Thompson, the FAA said, “The number of based aircraft indicated in your letter is sufficient justification to add Osage City to [the national airport plan].”

“That opened up doors for funding,” Hernandez said last week.

Following inclusion in the plan that year, costs were estimated at $195,000 to repair the runway and taxiway. The council approved preparing an application for a study of airport improvements. The council decided to seal the runway as a temporary fix.

“They did a chip and seal on the runway to save money,” Hernandez said.

Steps were taken to secure a grant, but by the end of the next year, the application to the FAA remained pending.

In 1987, a FAA grant of $34,650 was approved to develop an airport master layout plan, which was required before the city could obtain future FAA funding. The next year, the council unanimously approved a site plan and submitted it to the FAA. That plan is the basis for the plan now being acted upon.

“Basically, back in 1988, this is what was decided,” Hernandez said. “This is the plan they’ve kind of been working on ever since.”

In 1989, the city asked voters to decide if land should be acquired for the airport and if $125,000 in bonds should be issued for the acquisition, and airport expansion and development. Voters responded by passing the referendum 478 votes to 446, but the bonds were never issued.

That year, the council approved an application to the FAA for the first phase of construction.

During the next few years, the city waited for FAA approval, with Osage City’s application reported to be high on the priority list. In 1992, the FAA requested an update of the airport layout plan, but no changes were made. In 1994, the application remained near the top of the priority list.

By 1999, the city began seeking other funding, applying for a grant from Kansas Department of Transportation for runway and ramp improvements.

“This was 10 years after the original plan was passed and they were still looking for funding,” Hernandez said.

A grant of $107,000 was awarded, but the project was not completed due to the introduction of a federal program that provided up to $150,000 annually to general aviation airports.

“The council had put off the other (funding) in anticipation of this funding,” Hernandez said.

In 2000, the city was notified that the airport layout plan must be updated as a prerequisite to receiving federal funds. In 2002, the council hired engineering firm Bucher, Willis & Ratliff to update the plan.

In 2003, the city was awarded $126,849 in federal funding to repair the airport apron and install a beacon.

“That was ultimately from the damage back in 1983,” said Hernandez.

On April 18, 2006, the then-city manager received word from the FAA to proceed with land acquisition to construct a 4,100-foot by 75-foot runway, with land acquisition scheduled for 2007. In 2008, the FAA notified the city that emphasis should be placed on building a new, safer runway, noting approval had been given in 2006.

“They were stressing to the city [it] needed to be moving forward,” Hernandez said.

Also in 2008, the city used FAA funds to slurry seal and remark the runway, which cost $105,545.

Last year, FAA funds in the amount of $273,693 were used to reconstruct the airport access road and taxiway area.

At the first of this year, the city council approved an agreement with Kirkham-Michael for surveying and planning services, costing $35,713, with the FAA paying 95 percent and the city paying the remainder.

In August, a contract with Midwest Right of Way was approved to provide land acquisition services, not to exceed $54,470, also to be paid with a 95/5 FAA grant. Although a private meeting was held with potentially affected landowners in July, last week’s public information meeting was the next step in the project.

Hernandez said two options were available – continue with the expansion or cease the project.

If the project is continued, the city would remain eligible for annual FAA funding of $150,000 and be able to build a new runway that meets FAA design and safety specifications.

Describing the existing runway, Hernandez said, “It’s narrow, it’s short, and right at the highway they have to drop in. It’s very intimidating.”

The project is expected to cost $4,150,031, with the local share projected at $207,152.

If the project was ceased, the city would be required to pay back funds spent by the FAA for planning and studies, estimated to be $90,000, and would lose eligibility for FAA annual funding.

“Basically, there wouldn’t be any more upgrades unless we choose to go forward with the expansion,” he said.

Hernandez noted that since 1988, the city had received $627,789 from the FAA for airport maintenance. During that time, the city has spent $40,930 on the airport, averaging about $1,860 per year.

“That’s not very much money the city has spent to maintain that runway,” Hernandez said.

Questioned about whether the decision was final to proceed, Hernandez said, “It’s not a done deal until purchase of the land.”

According to information on the Osage County appraiser’s website, owners of land surrounding the airport include KanBuild, Inc., Stephen Kellison, John Fletcher, Thompson Farms LLC, Robert and Mary Jones, and Gary Moulin. The home and outbuildings in the path of the proposed runway are the residence of Ben Thompson and family.

Hernandez said three of those properties would require land acquisition, while the other three would require easements as runway protection zones. For the easements, landowners would retain the land for uses such as farming, but would not be able to build structures.

The plan would also require that Osage City’s 17th Street, also called Indian Hills Road, be moved. As planned, that township road would be moved to nearby Nichols Street and extended south to 245th Street.

One man at the meeting told Hernandez that citizens should be talking with city council members about the plan “not sitting here arguing with you.”

A woman spoke up noting that council members were “not even here to listen.”

“The fair thing would be to let people say how they feel about it,” she said.

Hernandez responded to the comments, “It’s my job to make sure we continue on the same path as was decided before I got here.”

Hernandez has served as city manager since August 2008.

Hernandez’s presentation is available on the city’s website http://www.osagecity.org – click the link for Document Center, then the link for Airport.