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Silver Bay Council sets hearing for possible airport closure

The Wayne Johnson Silver Bay Municipal Airport closed May 31 after a state inspection found the runway unsafe for planes to land. News-Chronicle file

Silver Bay city councilors, during their regular meeting Dec. 3, set a public hearing date to seek input on the possible permanent closure of the Wayne Johnson Silver Bay Municipal Airport. The hearing is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 7, prior to the annual council meeting at 7 p.m.

The council was advised by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics to set a public hearing on the subject of closing the airport to garner the public's input. The council is required to advertise the meeting 30 days prior to the hearing.

The airport runway was closed in May and its license was revoked after a MnDOT inspection found the runway conditions to be unsafe. The runway fell into disrepair after the City of Silver Bay chose to discontinue receiving grants from MnDOT and the Federal Aviation Authority, which would have required the city to financially match part of the funds, required to keep up maintenance.

"I'm going to repeat — the city of Silver Bay never closed this airport. MnDOT, working on behalf of FAA enforcing and overseeing standards, found our runway substandard and revoked the license of the airport," Johnson said. "The city let the airport runway fall into disrepair because the city could not see any or very little public interest or service that the airport was serving and with ongoing financial burdens to the city for keeping the airport open."

Johnson stated he was concerned with the letter the city received from MnDOT and the FAA as he believes the city's position on the airport was being misconstrued.

The letter states: "Your letter states that the city (1) has no available funding to repair or replace the runway; (2) will not accept any grants to aid in this repair and (3) is at this time, unable to find another sponsor to which it could transfer ownership. The city's current position, then, is incompatible with the continued maintenance of an operational airport. Because the city of Silver Bay's position is incompatible with the continued maintenance of an operational airport, and because your city has expressed no intention of re-opening the airport at this time, MnDOT considers your letter dated Aug. 22 to be constructive notice of the city's intent to close the airport."

"That's not what that letter intended to do," Johnson said. "Our letter dated Aug. 22 provided our position and in that letter we did not express an intent to close the airport. I think if you find the impacts of closing the Silver Bay airport evaluation report, they're well on their way to doing what they have to do."

"The Impacts of Closing the Silver Bay Municipal Airport" report details the conditions leading up to the runway closure, the city's options and the various impacts of closing the airport. This report will be part of the public hearing.

Because the city used grants from the FAA and MnDOT to maintain and improve the airport over the years, those grants have "grant assurances" that require the city to maintain the airport for a specified time.

If the airport is closed permanently, the total repayments to MnDOT and the FAA for those grant assurances would total $761,609, based on the 20-year project list.

Johnson expressed frustration with the situation.

"We need to protect ourselves. We're going down this process that they've designed. Are we totally sucked into this vortex or do we need to put some brakes on it? And if we do, how do we do that? But we are in the vortex now," Johnson said.

City Attorney Tim Costley advised the council to reach out to state representatives about the situation and agreed to reach out and attempt to clarify the record as presented in the letter.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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