Soaring into the future

Allen County Commissioners review plans for infrastructure and utility development at the airport as part of a goal to attract industries to the area.

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March 2, 2022 - 10:11 AM

Johnathon Goering, economic development director for Thrive Allen County, talks about plans to develop the airport for industrial use. BG Consultants provided maps for the infrastructure and utility needs at the property. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Allen County leaders will struggle with a “chicken and egg” question as they consider how to best develop property surrounding the airport.

They want to invest millions of dollars — hopefully through grants — to provide infrastructure and utilities that will encourage industrial development at the site.

But the scope of utilities they’ll need will likely depend on what type of industries they attract.

For example, consider water.

It might sound reasonable to build big. A 1.25 million-gallon water tower with a 10-inch main and pump station could service a major industry such as Russell Stovers Candies.

But if that customer never comes, the water will stagnate. Chemical treatments and resources will be wasted. And that comes at a cost.

The same with sewage. If you build big for a customer that never comes and the system isn’t used as intended, it could potentially result in sewage flowing back into the system.

Commissioners heard a presentation from BG Consultants, which conducted a massive engineering study of the airport’s infrastructure needs for economic development, on behalf of the commission and Thrive Allen County. Representatives of BG covered the highlights of the report at Tuesday’s meeting.

Bruce Boettcher of BG told commissioners the report offered three main phases for future expansion:

• Phase 1, about 105 acres west of the airport.

• Phase 2, about 98 acres east of the runway and existing airport facility.

• Phase 3, about 99 acres south of the airport facility.

Allen County commissioners, foreground, listen to a presentation from BG Consultants about infrastructure needs for industrial development at the Allen County Regional Airport.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

The report considered needs for potable water, wastewater, streets and roadways, electrical, natural gas and communications.

The report primarily focused on Phase 1, which included up to $15 million to develop large buildings to the west of the airport. Those sites would be close to U.S. 169, making them appealing for industrial development.

The sites could accommodate a variety of buildings, from standard-sized ones of about 15,000 square feet up to a massive 580,000 square feet. That’s larger than any existing local industries; Russell Stover’s building, for example, is about 360,000 square feet.

But even smaller buildings would still require a costly investment in infrastructure, around $12 million.

“Obviously, you’re not going to have four large developments at once, so how do you get it started?” Boettcher asked

It’s a question commissioners kept coming back to. 

Commissioner Bruce Symes asked if they needed to determine a sort of priority list for development. Perhaps some improvements would be independent of how it could potentially be used, such as roadway improvements, natural gas lines and electrical substations. 

It could take a couple of years for infrastructure improvements to be completed.

It would also take time for facilities to be built and outfitted for use.

Jonathon Goering, Thrive’s economic development director, gave commissioners an update on grants he has submitted on behalf of the airport.

Thrive submitted a grant application that would cover infrastructure improvements of about $4 million. It’s a competitive grant, but the awards should be announced around the end of March.

He also submitted a grant to the FAA for $212,000 for runway development and other physical improvements; he hoped to hear whether it was approved within 45 to 60 days.

The county also received a grant from the Kansas Airport Improvement Program for $477,000 for pavement preservation of a runway and remarking. 

IN OTHER news, commissioners: 

• Learned there is some problem securing a site for an emergency storm shelter at Carlyle. The county approved the purchase of six storm shelters, with one each in northern Iola, Elsmore, Mildred and Petrolia, and two in Savonburg because it is divided by railroad tracks. 

However, the state rejected a request to put a storm shelter near the Prairie Spirit trailhead, and they haven’t been able to find a landowner willing to accept one on their property. 

The shelters will be installed this month.

• Decided to continue to fund the general transportation program using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The state provides funding for the program through a grant, but the funding doesn’t start until the county receives a van. That van has not yet arrived because of supply chain issues. 

Thrive offered the loan of an older van, and the state agreed to give the county some money for the program if the van passes inspection. 

However, it’s not known how much funding will be provided and if the van can pass inspection.

• Heard the county was approved for accreditation for its emergency fire dispatch service, making it only the 61st agency in the world to earn that level of accreditation. 

• Got an update on the Humboldt Senior Center. The food pantry had requested to use a garage on the property, and commissioners are considering the request.

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