Arguments Take Flight Surrounding Kalispell's Airport - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Arguments Take Flight Surrounding Kalispell's Airport

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KALISPELL -

Over cobbler and coffee at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell, the chair of the Kalispell planning board, Chad Graham, and the former director of Montana's department of transportation, Jim Lynch, squared off.

The topic? If the Kalispell airport should be expanded.

Fraudulent--this is how Chad Graham of the Kalispell planning board describes the numbers presented on behalf of Montana's department of transportation. Specifically, he points to 41,000, the number given to quantify flights landing in Kalispell annually and the main reason the airport qualifies for federal funding.

"What I said was...It's either bad math or it was done on purpose. I still don't have an answer as to where that number came from," said Graham.

No one at today's luncheon argued against the importance of Kalispell's City Airport, just whether it's worth investing millions of dollars to expand, especially since Glacier Park International Airport is only some twenty miles away. Given the City Airport's fraught history, safety is a concern on both sides of the issue.

"We're moving the airport, first of all, a little bit further away from some of the congested areas," explained Lynch, "We're moving the airport south a thousand feet. We're increasing the traffic pattern altitude, which gives the pilot more time in times in which he might have to make some changes, make some different moves, or if he happens to have mechanical failure."

"An expansion," countered Graham, "and realignment would just take those crash points and put them in other areas of the city."

Lynch estimates the project will cost about $15 million, 90% of which can potentially come from the aviation fuel tax, meaning only those who fly in and out of Kalispell will pay. The state of Montana could pay half of the remaining 10%, but a unique situation might make the deal a little sweeter.

"Because the city has already made improvements to the airport which will be utilized in the expansion of the airport under this program, the Federal Aviation Administration will reimburse the city of Kalispell for those improvements, which far exceeds the five percent," said Lynch.

Graham points out, though, that nothing is guaranteed and the rug has been pulled out from under the city before, holding up Kalispell's bypass and its sudden lack of capital as an example.

The vote on the City Airport's proposed expansion will be part of the regular election on the first Tuesday of this coming November.

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