Site graders started moving dirt Friday at the site of the future Williston Basin International Airport northwest of Williston.

Elizabeth Hackenburg • Williston Herald

Williston’s airport relocation is being maneuvered into a better position to receive all of the federal support that it has been promised, as well as potentially more support if required.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he has procured language in a funding measure recently passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee which would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to provide sufficient funding for relocating airports whose size have been constrained at their present locations.

That provision will prioritize projects like Williston’s, Hoeven said, ensuring that vital infrastructure in the state has the support it needs to get off the ground.

The legislation also contains provisions maintaining the Airport Improvement Program’s funding at fiscal year 2017 levels, which is critical to several projects at airports in North Dakota, and it preserves funding for the Essential Air Service program, which provides funding for air carriers serving small communities.

In all, the FAA’s commitment to Williston’s $265 million airport relocation project is $112 million over a three-year period, with $54 million of that having already been secured. A state grant of $53 million is also anticipated, leaving the city’s share at $85 million. The city is considering bonds, USDA financing and other low interest loan options for covering that cost until it can take care of selling the former airport property.

Construction of the Williston Basin International Airport is already underway about 10 miles north of Williston. 

“We’ve been very fortunate with great construction weather allowing our contractors to stay within (schedule),” said Airport Director Anthony Dudas.

Projects under way at the site include full site grading for the 1,560-acre tract, and ground preparation for the commercial terminal, as well as re-routing 59th Street and relocating and coordinating miscellaneous utilities.

The site grading is 50 percent complete, the 59th Street reroute is 75 percent complete and the terminal surcharge is 95 percent complete, according to city administrator David Tuan. Design of the terminal is also 95 percent complete, and construction on that could begin later this summer or in early fall.

The fire station/snow removal building’s design is at 50 percent. 

While the total project cost is estimated at $265 million, Tuan said efficiencies have been found that are expected to drop the cost by $30 million. “So far we are tracking in that direction,” he said.

The FAA had already given the city a $27 million for a land grant, of which $8.4 million was used toward purchase of the land. The FAA recently agreed that it would direct the remaining $19.4 million toward the airport terminal’s construction through a new grant it would write.

That’s not typically done, Tuan said during a recent City Commission meeting, but reflects an “encouraging” level of support for the project.

“They want to see this completed on time and in a manner that improves the quality of air travel, and that’s obvious in the support they are giving,” he said then. “The support is not typically set up to be this flexible, but they are coming forward to

 partner with the city in a very encouraging way.”

The city is also bidding out construction of the runway and taxiway on an early time frame. That could allow work on that part of the project to begin as soon as the fall, but it also gives the city some flexibility if the bids that do come in are over budget. Bids for the runway were opened last week and the numbers are being reviewed by the FAA. A recommendation on that bid is anticipated at the Aug. 8 commission meeting. 

The taxiway bids are being advertised and are set to open Aug. 18.

Meanwhile, Cardon Global has continued a public process seeking input on the redevelopment of Sloulin Field, which will be decommissioned once the new airport is complete.

Two public sessions have so far been held to develop ideas for Sloulin airport property, which will have about 600 or so developable acres situated roughly in the middle of an existing commercial district in Williston. Cardon Global was to have conducted the third and last session in September, but it has been delayed until perhaps spring 2018, in part to facilitate obtaining comments from younger residents.