The City of Merrill, the Merrill Airport Commission and Merrill Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting on Tuesday to celebrate completion of extensive improvements to the Merrill Municipal Airport.
“All this happened because of long term planning started in 2001-2002,” said airport manager John Miller. “The chairman of the Airport Commission, Gary Schwartz, and commission members had a vision of what this airport should look like so it could be an economic engine for the community.”
Planning for the $4 million project started in 2003 with a target date of 2006 for completion. The original start up money came from an Earmark Grant secured by former Congressman Dave Obey. After many delays caused by the DNR, budget cuts from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the weather, the project finally started in 2011. That year the Merrill Airport put in the new fuel system (Aviation Gasoline and Jet A), did most of the dirt work and paved from the present terminal area to the new fuel system. In 2012, very little was accomplished because of delays in funding.
In 2013, the “2006 Project” was finished; the main improvements to the airport are:
(1) Parallel Taxiway for Runway 7/25 – This made the airport much safer. Aircraft can now get off the runway right after they land and not have to back taxi while other aircraft are trying to land. Aircraft can now taxi into position for takeoff without conflicting with other aircraft using the runway.
(2) A new aircraft parking ramp- This includes space for a new terminal building and a new Fixed Base Operator (FBO) hangar.
(3) Development of a new hangar area- The Merrill Municipal Airport had no more space to build new hangars on the airport without this new area. They now have room for two large corporate hangars and six private hangars, and space for a. airport-owned T Hangar, which would store eight aircraft. Also included was the infrastructure work for another area that would hold two more corporate hangars and 16 private hangars.
(4) New AvGas (100LL) and Jet A fuel storage tanks- “Our old storage tank for AvGas was over 30 years old and needed many upgrades to comply with new regulations,” Miller said. “To spend that kind of money on a 30 year old system was not wise.” The Merrill Municipal Airport also had no Jet A storage and no space at the old terminal to legally install one. The Airport now has new state of the art AvGas and Jet A storage tanks. These new tanks are fiberglass and include the latest technology leak detection systems available. This fuel system will serve the Merrill Airport for the next 40 years. Also installed was a self serve credit card system that makes fueling very convenient for all users of the Airport.
(5) A new vehicle parking area- for the future terminal building at the end of Champagne Street and other hangars and buildings that will go up in the area.
(6) New Utilities- Sewer and water, electrical and gas were brought into the new area for all future construction.
(7) Fencing and Gates- were put in for security and access to the new area.
This project was funded with the vast majority of the money coming from the FAA, some funding from the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics (BOA) and some from the City of Merrill. The split on some of the project was 95% FAA, 2.5% BOA and 2.5% from the City. This last portion in 2013 was 90% FAA, 5% BOA and 5% City.
Although tax dollars were used for some of the city’s share, a good portion came from another source. A large amount of crushed rock that the city of Merrill Street Department had collected and stored on the airport for years was used for the base for the taxiways and ramps. The city was reimbursed for this and that money was used for the city’s share of the 2013 portion of this project. That $70,000 produced $1.6 million of FAA and BOA money that was used to complete this project.
Also, dirt was moved from one portion of the airport to other areas for the project where fill was needed.
“By not having to buy fill and trucking it to the airport, they lowered the cost of the project, allowing the Airport Commission to get more done with the FAA and BOA money available,” Miller said.
“Over the last few years, over $4 million worth of improvements were done to this airport,” Miller added. “With these and other improvements done in 2003, this airport has taken giant steps to be ready to serve the City of Merrill and to help with the city’s future economic growth over the next 30 years and beyond.”
The Merrill Airport Commission began discussions on the future of the Merrill Airport in 2002.
“It was agreed that the Merrill Municipal Airport was a valuable asset to the community and one of the few economic engines owned by the city,” said Gary Schwartz, Merrill Airport Commission Chair.
It was found that in Wisconsin 85 percent of all commercial and manufacturing developments and expansions happen within 10 miles of a business class airport. After benchmarking the airport against other Wisconsin airports the decisions was made to upgrade and replace most of the airport infrastructure.
To date, the Merrill Municipal Airport has received more than $11 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Transportation Bureau of Aeronautics for infrastructure and safety improvements and upgrades.
“We are now able to compete with most business class airports in the Great Lakes Region,” Schwartz said.
At the ribbon cutting, Schwartz announced that the Commission will meet this week and make a formal decision on the future of a proposed new terminal in the now finished commercial hangar area. The new terminal would be constructed at the end of Champagne Street and could be operational as early as next spring.
“This kind of development cannot take place without the enthusiastic support from City Council, and City leadership,” Schwartz said. “Mayor Bialecki and staff have been very supportive of Merrill Airport Commission efforts.”
“I think we’ll see a lot of great things happen because of this airport,” Bialecki added.