Portage airport’s future under intensive study

November 16, 2018

Marcus Watson didn’t need to conduct an in-depth study of the Portage Municipal Airport to arrive at one obvious conclusion.

A walk through the airport on Wednesday morning — its parking areas, its runways, its hangars, its other facilities — showed a cramped space, amid a city that grew up around it.

“Overall, it’s a very constrained airport,” said Watson, project manager for the St. Paul, Minnesota, architecture and engineering firm TKDA, which is embarking on a two-year effort to arrive at a master plan for the airport’s future.

The public on Wednesday got the first look at the process for sorting out airport options, to be presented to the Portage Common Council for consideration sometime in 2020.

An open house at the Portage Municipal Building attracted city officials, TKDA personnel and one representative of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Aeronautics.

The only member of the public to attend was Jerry Foellmi, president of General Engineering Corp. — a firm located just across Silver Lake Drive from the airport.

Foellmi said he isn’t a user of the airport, but he’s interested in the process from an engineering perspective.

One of the questions to be addressed by the study, according to Watson, is the level of demand for airport service on the part of existing and prospective Portage businesses.

“There are several things we have to look at,” he said. “One is the demand for aviation in the city, and in surrounding areas. Once we determine that, we’ll get an idea of what Portage’s aviation needs are.”

Already, members of the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce are providing some insight into that question.

About 40 Chamber members have responded to a survey about the airport, and results are just now being compiled — to determine whether businesspeople are interested in flying into and out of the Portage Municipal Airport, and if so, what kinds of runway and hangar facilities they would need or desire for their aircraft.

Portage Public Works Director Aaron Jahncke said the city won’t have to dip into its coffers to pay for the study.

Ninety-five percent of its cost is covered by the Federal Aeronautics Administration and the state Bureau of Aeronautics. The city’s share of the cost, about $14,000, was long ago set aside in a fund — at about the time, in the early 2000s, when city officials bought a 260-acre site north of the city, commonly known as the Evans property, as a potential new airport site.

Jahncke described the site as a “muck farm,” too wet to use as an airport.

Before the acquisition of the Evans property, Watson said, the city had looked at about nine other possible sites to relocate the airport, and they all had environmental issues that made them unsuitable as airport locations.

However, relocation of the airport is one of the possibilities that is likely to be considered as the study progresses.

“Nothing is off the table,” Watson said.

Mark Graczykowski of the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics said studies of the Portage airport have been done repeatedly over the years, dating back as far as the 1970s.

“So many studies have been done,” he said. “Once this study has been done, it should provide us with the answers.”

Watson said the next step is for the city to appoint a technical advisory committee, composed of various airport stakeholders, to provide ongoing feedback to the city regarding the airport.

The earliest stages of developing a master plan for the airport include collecting information about the built and natural environment of the existing airport, forecasting future demand for aviation services in Portage and determining the facility needs.

By the spring of 2020, Watson said, a set of alternatives, and their costs, should be ready to present to the Portage Common Council, which would determine the plan for implementation.

Wednesday’s open house is not the public’s only opportunity to weigh in. Here are other options:

The study’s website, portageairportplan.tkda.com, has information about the study, including a link to submit comments and links to surveys for businesses and airport users.A newsletter is available for people interested in the study who don’t have access to the Internet. To get copies of the newsletter, contact Jahncke at 608-742-2176.Jahncke also is the contact for people interested in serving on the technical advisory council.Written comments can be directed to Watson at TKDA, 444 Cedar St., Suite 1500, USB Plaza, St. Paul, MN 55101.When the study’s process of outlining airport options is completed in the spring of 2020, another public open house will be held.

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