[KLMO]: Oral Arguments Today, in the Colorado Court of Appeals

A classic example of the sacrifices commonly made by aviation impact activists is happening today, in a Denver courtroom. A single airport operator, Mile-Hi Skydiving, makes money by using their fleet of skydiving planes, outfitted to climb faster AND make more noise. So as not to annoy the actual near-airport residents, the planes are flown a few miles away and the climbs, which commonly drone on for 15- to 20-minutes, impact the residents below. The problem came many decades after the airport was built, coinciding with aircraft purchases and modifications by Mile-Hi owner Frank Casares.

As is nearly always the case, FAA is doing nothing to help resolve the problems. Indeed, doing the quite the opposite, FAA is enabling the operator (Mile-Hi) and ensuring these impacts will persist and even worsen. Just as they do at East Hampton, Santa Monica, Mora, and a dozen or so NextGen-induced noise canyons (e.g., [KLGA], [KPHX], [KCLT], [KSEA], [KBOS]), FAA is  obstructing every effort for meaningful LOCAL CONTROL of local airports. Somehow, we are supposed to suspend rational thinking and believe that, if the local City Council wanted to impose reasonable restrictions on the lease they have signed with Mile-Hi, it would compromise safety to have them execute quieter climbs or limit their operations to say a 6-hour block each day? Likewise, FAA (and the industry they protect from the Public!) expects us to believe this total capitulation to the profit-motives of a single skydiving operator is critical for our National Airspace System (NAS) integrity?

Bullshit. Shame on you, FAA et al, for continuing to obstruct reasonable attempts toward local resolution. Sleep, and the quality of our home environments, is important … far more necessary than your propping up the narrowly distributed profits of operators like Frank Casares. Let’s bring some balance back to these situations: more LOCAL control at our local airports.

Thank you, Kim, Citizens for Quiet Skies, and the others who have bravely spoken up to fix this local problem. Against a hostile local press, a corrupt and commerce-biased state court system, you fight on. And your battles help many others, from East Hampton to Santa Monica to Mora.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

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]

Wrong Place for an Unneeded Runway, Yet FAA Pushes On

KJMR.20160521.. crop of 'swans lifting off, crosswind RWY proposal area'

Two swans lifting off from a pond (and disturbing a loon) in Mora, MN. FAA is supplying public funds aimed at filling this pond to ADD a runway… at an airport with zero value as part of the National Airspace System (NAS), and averaging fewer than 5 takeoffs per day!

Mora, Minnesota is a small town and the seat of Kanabec County, at a crossroads in the center of a triangle connecting Minneapolis, Duluth, and St. Cloud. This is an area of quiet farms on glacial soils: tilled lands and pastures and small native woodlots, alternating with very many ponds and wetlands.

KJMR.20160604cpy.. satview with runways-ponds marked

The airport is along the northeast edge of town, surrounded by farmland and ponds.

Waterfowl thrive here; thus, any airport development is only increasing the likelihood of a potentially fatal collision with waterfowl. Clearly, it makes no sense to build airports or add runways unless there is a compelling need, and there is no such need at Mora.

KJMR.20150915cpy.. waterfowl at N-S runway pic2

The current north-south runway at Mora sees more gull landings in a single day than it sees plane landings per year. This photo taken September 2015.

KJMR.20160314cpy.. pic of butternut leaf, juglans_cinerea_001

(click on image to view further information about Juglans cinerea)

That does not stop FAA from pushing for further airport development at KJMR. In this case, a full twenty years ago, an airport neighbor with a plant nursery was told some of his family’s land would be taken, for the construction of a new crosswind runway. Natural terrain would be destroyed – including the destruction of habitat and numerous seedlings for an endangered Minnesota tree: the butternut.

To try and justify the waste, airport and FAA officials were both complicit in using one of their oldest tricks: documenting a lie. Public money gets spent, paying aviation contractors to create official-looking reports with claims that routinely exceed realities, both in terms of actual past airport usage, and likely future airport usage. Below are two letters, from 2011 and 2003, contradicting the exaggerated airport usage data:

KJMR.undated.. LTE questioning accuracy of reported airport usage (B.Burk, 1p)

A statement by a concerned citizen with an office adjacent to the runway, about airport usage estimates he believes are grossly exaggerated. (April 2011)

KJMR.2003est~.. LTE disputing need for airport expansion (D. Johnson, former mayor, pilot, 1p)

Another letter disputing the exaggerated airport usage estimates. This one was written in 2003 by a former town mayor who also happens to be a pilot.

All of this mess was created by (and continues to be perpetuated by) two different federal funds. A first federal grant was used to entice local officials to close the original crosswind runway, allowing that land along the edge of town to become available for light industrial use. The second federal grant was FAA money, derived primarily from taxes on airline passengers, to be used to buy land, fill a wetland, and construct a replacement runway. Of course, officials have completely ignored that the industrial park never really caught on. But that is beside the point, since the real original objective was to make a small injection of federal money into the local community, and in the process help a few elected officials look good, to bolster their odds at reelection.

City leaders would like to abandon the plans, but they accepted and used FAA grants years ago, and now are in the position of either continuing the project or paying that money back to FAA. The project was not needed when the grant was accepted, and it is needed even less today.

The critically important fact – that the crosswind runway was never needed and continues to not be needed – has been carefully ignored by FAA and elected officials. Additionally, the runway will be entirely unusable much of the year as the plan is to spend millions creating a turf without lighting. And so, it is up to local residents, especially the farm family facing land condemnation and destruction of the quality of their home, to speak up and try to stop yet another wasteful aviation project.

Notably, too, this entire situation would immediately resolve, if FAA would simply accept the reality, that needs change, and release the city from obligations on past wasted grants. This is a classic example of the bad that happens when an agency has too much extra money to spend (in this case, collected from airline passengers) and gets carried away using that money to expand power and serve politicians. There is an extraordinary opportunity here for valuable constituent services: will at least one of the Minnesota federal representatives step up to the plate and save this habitat from FAA’s wasteful project?
KJMR.. pond, 2 swans, 1 loon


See also:
  • aiREFORM – a webpage with further information, including copies of other documents about KJMR.
  • MinnesotaSeasons.com – Nice website with nature info for the whole state; see the videos, too. See this link for further info on the butternut.