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Local officials pitch capital investment panel on need for Duluth, St. Cloud airport projects

Airport safety projects landed in the House Capital Investment Committee Wednesday with a pair of informational hearings of bills proposing money for airports in Duluth and St. Cloud.

HF2112, sponsored by Rep. Alicia Kozlowski (DFL-Duluth), would appropriate $14 million in bond proceeds to pave the way for a new traffic control tower at the Duluth International Airport, which recently completed a 10-year infrastructure project totaling more than $111 million and plans additional upgrades of $163 million over the next 20 years.  

A new tower is critical to maintain the airport’s unique mix of military, experimental and passenger aircraft, said Tom Werner, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority.

Built 70 years ago, Duluth’s air traffic control tower is the third-oldest in the country and no longer meets FAA line-of-sight requirements. State money would be used for final design, construction and furnishing of the tower, along with demolition of three blighted buildings.

About $2 million of the $14 million request would provide a match to federal money available through the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, expected to cover 95% of $38 million to build the tower. Federal money has not historically been available to build towers and the funding stream is not expected to be renewed.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud), HF2370 would appropriate $3.9 million from bond sales for the St. Cloud Regional Airport to install a new approach lighting system and upgrade the instrument landing system serving Runway 31. Both systems are well past their 20-year lifespans, according to a handout from the St. Cloud Regional Airport Authority.

Completing the project would increase capacity and safety with a system in place for inclement weather, Wolgamott said, before adding that timing is critical to tackle both systems at the same time.

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