Mora, MN: FAA Wasting Millions to Add a Crosswind Runway Through a Wetland & Wildlife Area

Here are some facts about one of the most egregious examples of FAA working to force an unneeded runway onto a local community – a case that even went all the way to the use of eminent domain to force landowners to sell their property:

  1. It is a common practice across the nation that FAA and the agents hired to develop and gain approval for airport improvements will repeatedly fudge the data, offering fictitious and unsupportable ‘estimates’ and projections. That has again happened in this case, for the Mora airport.KJMR.20160521.. crop of 'swans lifting off, crosswind RWY proposal area'
  2. FAA claims this airport averages 15,000 operations per year (20 landings per day), but FAA has no solid evidence to back this up. In fact, locals, including many pilots opposed to this proposal, believe the real activity level averages closer to 5 landings per day.
  3. This project would not even be contemplated if not for FAA offering an incentive in generous federal grants (derived mostly from airline passenger taxes) to enable local officials to look and feel productive.
  4. The proposed runway requires substantial grading and fill across an area of ponds and wetlands. This area is commonly inundated with thousands of geese, swans and other large birds.
  5. The wetlands are also a rare habitat for an endangered tree species, the Butternut. These trees will be destroyed during the grading, and future trees will be destroyed as part of a wildlife hazard management plan.
  6. There was an apparent conflict of interest in the last round of construction contracts at this airport. Historically, most of the FAA grants have been awarded to SEH Engineering, a firm that also handles many other contracts in Mora and other Minnesota communities. One of the SEH employees who most often negotiates plans with FAA and advises the city on those plans is a Mr. Joel Dresel. In late 2007, when the primary runway was extended another 800-feet to the current 4,800-ft length, the Mora City Council approved three payments totaling $1.5 Million; the recipient was ‘Dresel Contracting, Inc.’ (see pages 7-8 of this PDF compilation of Mora City Council minutes). Clearly, a contractor who stands to win contracts cannot be objective and should NOT be guiding an environmental review process.
  7. If FAA would be flexible, they could choose to forgive the City’s obligation to build this crosswind runway (perhaps with encouragement from elected officials such as Senators Franken and Klobuchar). In so doing, FAA would simply and reasonably justify that the roughly $100,000 spent was lost due to the decline in general aviation activity these past ten years, as well as the overall economic bust of 2008.

KJMR.20160622.. 'Plan view showing grading limits, mounds, butternut trees' (SEH Engineering, 'p.74 of Written Re-Evaluation of the 2004 EA)

(a page from the 2016 update of the 2004 Environmental Assessment, showing grading limits, a potential archaeological mound, and endangered butternut tree locations.)

KJMR.aerial view of airport, from Minnesota Airport Directory & Travel Guide, markedup
The following pages offer an extensive collection of documents and images (photos, maps, satellite views, etc.) covering roughly two decades of aviation impact activism at this quiet rural community.

pg.2: Document Archives [KJMR]
pg.3: Images [KJMR]