South St. Paul's Fleming Field has received a $3.4 million federal grant to reconstruct its runway, funding that will save the city more than $200,000 and provide a much-needed update to the city-owned airport.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, along with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig advocated for the U.S. Department of Transportation grant, which will also pay for new airfield lighting and signage, culvert replacement and drainage improvements.
"[These improvements] have been a long time coming," said Andrew Wall, airport manager at Fleming Field, also known as South St. Paul Municipal Airport. "It's a big project and a good shot in the arm for this airport."
Fleming Field is home to several businesses and more than 100 hangars, and over 200 aircraft consider it their base, Wall said. A 2019 MnDOT study found the airport has about a $65 million economic impact on the area, with a payroll of approximately $31 million.
Reconstruction of the 1990s-era runway, which is 4,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, could be completed this summer, but will likely be pushed to summer 2022, Wall said. The grant must be used within three years.
The city originally hoped to wrap up the project last year but the planning process took longer than expected, in part because of the pandemic. Officials have attended planning and design meetings for a year and a half and the project has been in the city's capital improvement plan for longer than that, Wall said.
But the delay inadvertedly benefited the city, Wall said, since the project is now 100% federally funded. Previously, the city would have had to contribute $205,000, or 5% of the cost, with MnDOT also pitching in 5%. That 10% is now covered by the American Rescue Plan, which includes provisions to help airports.
"[The money] is obviously very helpful," said Joel Hanson, South St. Paul city administrator. "The useful life of the paved surface has passed."
Reconstructing the runway — technically completing a "full-depth reclamation" — is the best of both worlds, Wall said, since it recycles what's already there. The current layer of asphalt will be ground up, with some of the material used to fix the base. Then the runway will be oiled and repaved with new asphalt. Fleming Field will close for 25 days to do the work, Wall said.
The process takes half the time and costs half as much as a complete rebuild, Wall said. It's been used on highways for years, but the Federal Aviation Administration didn't approve its use until 2019.
Wall said it's "a little bit more challenging" for city-funded airports like Fleming Field to secure funding compared to Metropolitan Aiport Commission (MAC) reliever airports such as Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie or the Crystal Airport in Crystal. The MAC has revenue sources the city doesn't have, he said.
"It's just a unique situation that we have here. It's not a bad thing," he said.
Mayor Jimmy Francis said South St. Paul is involved in several major infrastructure projects right now, including the $32 million Concord Street reconstruction. It's fitting — and exciting — to add the airport to the list, he said.
"We're a small little city and we can get forgotten," he said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-178