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.
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.
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:
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?