Moolenaar promises help Roben-Hood’s expansion

BIG RAPIDS – Congressman John Moolenaar recently met with city officials and local business leaders at Roben-Hood Airport to discuss the runway extension project proposed for two years.

In 2018, the City of Big Rapids commission approved a feasibility study for the proposed runway extension project.

Since then, Steve Schroeder, airport manager, and others worked to gain approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration’s office of aeronautics for the project, as well as to find a source of funding.

After a brief overview of the proposed project, Moolenaar listened to city officials and business leaders explain the need for expansion and some of the obstacles they encountered in trying to get the project approved.

The proposed project involves extending the runway from 4,300 feet to 5,000 feet, Schroeder said.

“Five thousand feet is the magic number for a lot of business trips, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” Schroeder said.

When the runway was originally installed, he said, it had been approved for 5,000 feet, and there is no explanation as to why it ended at 4,300 feet. .

“From what I can see in the documentation, it has been approved for 5,000 feet,” he said. “It looks like the groundwork has been done for this, as well as the intersecting traffic lane in the design, so I’m not sure what happened there, but we’re just trying to make it happen. ‘achieve.

Schroeder explained that the main problem, at the moment, is to get the project through the approval process.

“As we look at the justifications, this is where the challenges come in,” Schroeder said. “We’re having a hard time knowing where to go next.”

City manager Mark Gifford said the justifications related to the specifics of the particular aircraft and its capabilities, as well as insurance issues.

“We have pilots who write letters that if the runway was 5,000 feet, they would do additional flights at our airport every year,” Schroeder said. “When pilots go to the flight directory and see 4,300 feet, they don’t even consider using it. The MDOT and FAA approval process will use numbers that many pilots will not use to determine safety. “

“Typically, when you talk about business charter flights, a few hundred extra feet makes a big difference for 80-90% of business jets,” he added. “It’s very difficult for a business to say that 4,300 feet is enough, according to someone from MDOT or the FAA, when insurance companies have a different idea. It’s not that the plane can’t do it, it’s just that it wouldn’t be safe. You don’t want to push the boundaries. “

One of the problems is that MDOT and the FAA rationale is asking for additional flight numbers of up to 500 per year, Schroeder said, but it’s difficult to capture this possible user information and know if there is any. potential for future business when pilots examine 4300. feet and move on.

“So these are some of the obstacles,” he said. “They keep asking for additional information and justifications.”

“This is where things can get a little complicated, because some groups want to use the issue of security and some want to use the issue of economic development,” Moolenaar said. “Looks like they’re asking you to describe the potential for economic development, and you can’t fully realize what that might be.”

Moolenaar offered to examine how to work with MDOT to ensure FAA approval of the project, and then identify some possible funding sources through the regular credit process.

“I think the next steps would be to share the documentation that you got from the MDOT and the FAA, and some of the objections they raised,” Moolenaar said. “We can work on setting up a call with them to get them all together to say what rationale we need to show.”


Moolenaar is committed to helping the city overcome the red tape to get the proposal approved and bring it to the attention of lawmakers during the budget process for possible financial assistance.

“My understanding is that this would be a roughly $ 2 million project and you’re looking at some of the federal funding and matching requirements,” Moolenaar said. “Do you have money budgeted right now for this expansion, or is that something you’re working towards?”

Gifford said the city is ready to do what it can to help with the project once approvals are received.

“I think we’re in a good position right now to do it,” Gifford said. “At 5% (match) it would be around $ 100,000, and at 10% it would be $ 200,000, so anything in that range is not beyond our capabilities.”

Asked about the possibility of funding from CARES ACT or the infrastructure bill currently under discussion, Moolenaar said all of these initiatives are very fluid and no one knows what will happen with these funding sources. He suggested looking at a new source of funding in the credit process called “community project funding”.

“We may need to do a bit of preparatory work and push for funding for community projects, which is new in the process of allocating funds,” he said. “Communities will be able to request specific projects and members of Congress will be able to advocate for this through the legislative budget process. I think we want to put our ducks in a row and say, “Here is the rationale and the rationale, and this is the identified funding source”. Then we can advocate for it.

“I think it would be a very reasonable project to defend once we determine what the obstacles are,” he continued. “I think there is a very strong point to make, and I fully understand why you want to do it and how it can be very important for the region. I am happy to work on it with you and to support this project. “

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