SPEARFISH — Following a cultural assessment of the proposed construction area of a crosswind runway at Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field, the city must look at an alternate location onsite.

City Administrator Mike Harmon explained Tuesday that the city, which operates the airport, retained engineering firm KLJ to conduct a preliminary assessment and feasibility study of a crosswind runway at the airport.  

“As a part of the feasibility analysis, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires a cultural assessment of the proposed construction area,” he said. “The FAA has reported to the city that 80 sites of cultural significance have been located in the study area. The city has not been provided a copy of the study and does not know the exact location or nature of the sensitive areas. It is the position of the FAA that the study is a process between two nations (the U.S. government and Tribal Nations) and the city is not entitled to a copy of the study nor its content.

“The city has asked the FAA to work collaboratively with the tribal nations to mitigate or minimize the crosswind runway’s impact on the sensitive sites, and the FAA has taken a position that mitigation and minimization cannot be discussed until options to achieve avoidance through construction of an alternative runway are completely exhausted,” he added. “Additionally, the FAA has indicated that, in its estimation, mitigation is not feasible due to the nature of the sites.”

Since then, Harmon said, the city has discussed its concerns with elected representatives, sent formal correspondence to the FAA, and met with representatives from the FAA to discuss concerns.

“We continue to work collaboratively with our consultant to explore solutions,” he said.

When asked what company or agency completed the cultural assessment, Harmon explained Friday that the FAA coordinates with several Native American tribes within the region, and at various times, 12 different Traditional Cultural Specialists were at the Spearfish airport for the assessment, representing five different Native American tribes.

In October 2017, the city authorized Mayor Dana Boke to sign the updated Airport Layout Plan (ALP), Focused Planning Study Agreement, and miscellaneous professional services agreement with KLJ Engineering, of Rapid City.  The contract called for KLJ to complete the Phase 2 planning efforts as they relate to the proposed crosswind runway, and the agenda item summary explains that the contract form is the standard contract prepared by S.D. Department of Transportation for use on the airport projects receiving federal funding. A detailed scope of services is contained on Exhibit A of the contract and includes: a Cultural Resources Pedestrian Inventory with Tribal Review, Coordination, and Administration of one Tribal Consultation Meeting, Wetland Delineations, Biological Resources Survey, Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) Analysis, and FAA Flight Procedures Feasibility Analysis. 

In September 2017, the council authorized Boke to sign a grant agreement between the city and FAA for an Airport Improvement Program project at the airport to update the airport master plan to evaluate cultural, historic, runway protection zone analysis, potential environmental impacts, and approach feasibility for the proposed crosswind runway. An Airport Master Plan, which describes the short, medium, and long-term airport development needed to meet future demands on aviation facilities, was last formulated for the Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field in 2000. 

Harmon explained that airplanes take off and land into the wind and that the airport’s primary runway, 13-31, allows planes to take off and land when the wind favors the direction of that runway.  

“When the wind does not favor 13-31, aircraft encounter crosswind conditions,” he described. “Aircraft have certain thresholds that stipulate maximum allowable crosswinds. If the weather conditions exceed the maximum allowable limits for the aircraft, the plane must divert and find an alternative airport. Constructing a crosswind runway would allow for aircraft to land at our airport in approximately 98% of our wind conditions.”

He added that the city is exploring all possible avenues to facilitate the construction of a crosswind runway. 

“If successful, the project would receive 95% of its funding from grant sources, and it would allow for increased utilization of our airport,” he said.

The Airport Board Thursday considered the city’s current position, with staff asking the board for a recommendation to be forwarded to the city council on how to proceed. However, as there was not a quorum at the meeting, the item was up for discussion only, with no recommendation.

Consultant Rod Senn with KLJ explained to the two board members in attendance, Randall Rosenau and Michael Rath, that the city has been in discussions with the FAA about possible solutions to constructing the crosswind runway, numbered 5-23.

“So far, no real progress,” he said. “The FAA is still concerned with impact to those sites … so the request has been made to evaluate the second crosswind runway alignment (numbered 8-26) …”

He said that basically what that means is the FAA would like the airport to move forward on a similar study on 8-26 as what they have been doing for 5-23: What it would take to construct it, cost estimates, what approaches could be evaluated, and then take the results of that second study and weigh the pros and cons against the first before making a decision. Senn guessed it would be about a year to complete.

“The scope is still being defined …” he said of the study, adding that it is eligible for the same grant funding as the previous study: 90% federal and 5% state, with the city responsible for 5%. Grant applications are due to the FAA at the end of the month, Senn added, so he offered to ask for an extension to mid-July so the city council could consider the request.

Harmon expanded on the topic at the meeting.

“Virtually, the FAA is taking a position that avoidance (for 5-23) is the only option right now, and until we exhaust avoidance, we can’t even begin to discuss mitigation of these cultural sites,” he said. Harmon said that a shorter 5-23 runway would avoid the sites, so the FAA is presenting the option for a shorter, approximately 3,600-foot 5-23 crosswind runway, or a 5,000-foot 8-26 runway. 

Otherwise, Harmon said, the city could spend time and money fighting the FAA to build a longer 5-23, but none of that money would be grant eligible.

“Our consultant, KLJ, has said that our probability of success is less than 50% (in winning approval for building a longer 5-23),” Harmon said. “The FAA’s put our probability success around 1% … it really makes sense to further evaluate 8-26 …”

Harmon said that the staff and KLJ’s recommendation is to move forward with an analysis of 8-26, then compare the shorter 5-23 option versus the 8-26 option, and then move forward with the FAA in terms of the grant processing, etc. He said that once KLJ has drawn up a contract for the 8-26 study, the item would be brought forward to the city council for consideration.

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