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FAA sets deadline for Silver Bay airport closure notice

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

A new letter from the Federal Aviation Administration sparked conversation about the status of the Wayne Johnson Silver Bay Municipal Airport at the City Council meeting Monday, May 6.

The letter stated that it is "incumbent upon the city to either submit a formal request for closure or provide a written corrective action plan to reopen the airport to the FAA no later than May 24, 2019."

The airport runway was closed in May 2018 and its license was revoked after a Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics inspection found the runway conditions to be unsafe.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 Administration, which would have required the city to financially match part of the funds to keep up maintenance.

The city held a public hearing in January to seek input on the possible permanent closure of the airport. It hasn't taken official action on the topic since then, except to seek advice and aid from various government representatives.

Now the FAA is asking for the city to submit either an action plan to reopen the airport or submit a formal request for closure. The letter states that if the city fails to give proper notice, "then it shall be liable for a civil penalty of $10,000 for each day that the airport remains closed without having given the notice required by the section."

Mayor Scott Johnson voiced concerns with submitting the request for closure.

"What I'm perceiving in this is that the FAA is pressuring us to say that we're closing the airport which will then trigger all the FAA ramifications," Johnson said. "We've been dancing around whether we actually closed it or who actually closed it. But I don't want to fall into some sort of trap and that's what I sense here, that maybe we're being pushed to say something definite."

The ramifications include the issue of repayment of grant assurances to the FAA and to MnDOT. Grant assurances are contracts between the city and the state or federal government, basically assuring that if the city accepts money to fund airport repairs or improvements, they must keep the airport open and running for a certain length of time.

If the city chooses to close the airport permanently, the city would owe the state airports fund about $8,500 and owe the federal government around $750,000.

Other councilors agreed to allow city staff and the city attorney to pursue drafting a letter of notice to avoid the penalty. The letter would be approved at a future city council meeting before being sent to the FAA.

"I can help you draft the letter," City Attorney Tim Costley said. "But you have to do that so that we can avoid any claim that we can be fined."

"Yes, I agree," councilor Carlene Perfetto said. "It's called 'cover your butt.'"

In the meantime, the council agreed to continue reaching out to governmental representatives to keep them abreast of the situation and ask for aid and advice.

Teri Cadeau

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

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