Sunday, July 10, 2016

Whitefish Airport (58S) remains closed until further notice -Kathryn's Report


Extensive damage to the runway means that the Whitefish airport will remain closed until possibly late fall.

Glacier Park International Airport Executive Director Cindi Martin says that the winter skijoring event held in January damaged runway.

Martin says losses are about $28,400 and will make a claim to property damage insurance.

She says usually the ground freezes during winter months but this year winter was unseasonably warm.

“It was compressed and driven over by heavy machinery and other vehicles -- it quickly just turned the topsoil turf into mud.”

The skijoring event has been at the Whitefish Airport location since 2003 and hasn’t been a problem until this year.

The airport does not charge for landing or access fees for use if the airstrip.

It operates seasonally between June through October and is primarily used by light aircraft and private aircraft.

Story and video:

Scott Ping on Yeeha pulls skier Cody Smith in the open class of the Whitefish ski joring races.

The Whitefish Airport remains closed this summer after the runway was damaged during the skijoring event held there last winter.

“It will not be open to air traffic this year,” Cindi Martin, executive director of Glacier Park International Airport, said. “There was significant damage done to the turf on the runway and taxi area by the horses.”

The Flathead Municipal Airport Authority owns and operates the Whitefish Airport, which is normally open from June to October. It also owns GPI.

The World Invitational Whitefish Ski Joring races were held Jan. 30-31 this year at the airport and are a traditional Whitefish Winter Carnival event. Skiers pulled by a horse and rider are challenged to slalom through gates and hit jumps during the competition.

Martin said during the event, horses running on the field put 6- to 8-inch holes in the turf. The damage is spread over 7 acres and cost about $23,000, according to Martin.

Event organizer Dale Duff confirmed there was damage to the turf as the result of thawing temperatures that occurred during the event. He did disagree on the amount of the damage, however, saying his estimates were about $2,300.

“The damage did occur and we will pay for it,” he said. “We are insured and we will make sure the land is restored to good or better than it was before. We are grateful the airport authority has allowed us to use the airport and we want to be good stewards of the land.”

The holes have been repaired and the grass replanted, but airplanes can’t safely land until the turf has been re-established, according to Martin.

“The ski joring group used the airport free of charge, but we did require them to carry insurance and this should be covered under that,” Martin said. “We will submit a claim to their insurance.”

In May the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority board voted to no longer permit ski joring to take place at the Whitefish Airport.

According to Duff, the decision by the airport authority was made after it was discovered that when ownership of the airport originally passed from the state to the county a clause was set up to only allow use of the property as directly related to the airport.

“The airport authority was gracious enough to let us use the airport,” Duff said. “They were not aware of that clause and are not at liberty to let us use it.”

However, the ultimate decision on whether the ski joring event could return to the airport may actually end up in the hands of the Montana Department of Transportation.

The airport authority is considering transferring its ownership of the Whitefish Airport to the state. The authority board is tentatively set to discuss the item at its July 14 meeting, but the final agenda won’t be formalized until Friday.

Martin said the authority’s mission is to operate a commercial service out of GPI.

“The board will decide if it wants to return the airport to the state,” Martin said. “Glacier Park International has become increasingly busy and our mission is to operate that. The Whitefish airport is seasonal and is a pull on our resources.”

Martin said the state previously owned and maintained the airport before Flathead County in the 1980s turned it over to the airport authority board.

The Department of Transportation includes an aeronautics division that is responsible for maintenance of airports and various components of airport infrastructure. The state owns and operates the seasonal Yellowstone Airport at West Yellowstone.

Martin said if the transfer is approved, changes would be relatively minor including a new sign listing the state’s ownership and the state would maintain the property such as mowing the grass.

“We’re not looking to close the airport,” she said. “We’re looking at transferring it back to the state to continue to operate it.”

Duff said the ski joring would like to stay at the airport.

“We hope to have an informative dialogue with the airport authority and the state to see if that exclusionary clause can’t be negotiated because it is the best spot for the ski joring event,” he said.

If ski joring is ultimately not allowed to return to the airport, Duff said, organizers already have a commitment from the owner of the adjacent 17 acres to the south to move the event there.

Original article can be found here:

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