Sunday, November 13, 2016

Spearfish sees clear skies for Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field

SPEARFISH | After waiting more than two years for formal approval of its flight plan from the Federal Aviation Administration, the city of Spearfish has formally assumed the controls of Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field from Lawrence County.

Local officials say the busy airport should see improvements under the new arrangement and will play a key role in the ongoing growth and development of the Spearfish economy.

Following the first meeting of the newly constituted Spearfish Airport Advisory Board late last week, city officials and the airport’s longtime manager said they see only clear skies in the years to come.

“As you look at the city and you consider those assets that help create economic opportunity — like Black Hills State, Regional Hospital and our Industrial Park — the airport is one of those big assets that can be an economic driver for the community,” Spearfish City Administrator Joe Neeb said. “We believe this will be an asset that will help Spearfish reach its true potential.”

Neeb said city control over operations, management and fiscal responsibility of the Spearfish airport, the busiest general-aviation airfield in South Dakota, should be a revenue-neutral proposition and that it was the intent of the city council to not devote any property tax revenues to its operation.

As discussed at Thursday’s meeting, the city may initially have to assist in replacing some outdated equipment at the airport, but overall, the facility should be self-supporting, he said.

“It’s not a burden, but a vital piece of our city’s future,” Neeb said.

Tucked on the eastern flank of the Northern Black Hills and centered among the burgeoning energy camps of the Niobrara, Powder River Basin and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, the airport is named for pioneer aviator Clyde Ice.

Airport Manager Ray Jilek said Friday that the sky’s the limit for the airfield’s future.

“We’re optimistic and looking forward to flying in the right direction,” Jilek said of the city’s new role at the airport. “I don’t anticipate any real significant changes due to city control. This airport will continue to operate as it has, if not improve.”

As evidence of the airport’s position for the future, Jilek pointed to 14 individuals and companies currently on a waiting list for hangar space, 47 existing and occupied T-hangars, and plans to build a new 11-unit T-hangar in 2017.

“We’ve been fortunate the past 16 years to have 100 percent occupancy of our hangars, and anytime we can bring another airplane to the field, it contributes to the local economy,” he said. “In addition, potentially we’ve got three large aircraft owners interested in developing hangars for their aircraft right now. On top of that, just this morning I got a call from a Texas company that would like to hangar their aircraft here.

“So the demand is there,” Jilek added.

Last year, the city bought 160 acres at the southeast edge of the airport to prevent encroachment and to accommodate a planned second cross-wind runway, Neeb noted. Typically, the FAA has funded 90 percent of airport improvements, with the remainder covered by local entities and the state, airport officials have explained.

The airport advisory board consists of seven members appointed by the mayor to serve three-year terms. They are Chairman Michael Rath, Vice Chairman Brooks Hanna, Randy Deibert, Travis Lantis, Randall Rosenau, Dan Hodgs and Jim Seward.

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