S.D. Aeronautics Commission decides to revisit September decisions that cut off some funding

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State government’s panel that oversees airports in South Dakota decided Thursday to take another look at a recent decision.

The South Dakota Aeronautics Commission agreed September 24 to immediately stop making grants for some projects, such as new hangars and fuel systems, that local airports see as ways to generate more revenue.

Now turn the calendar ahead two months. Murdo, Platte, Webster and Sturgis have those types of projects in the planning stages. They sent local officials and representatives from engineering firms to politely but firmly argue Thursday against what the commission did.

Aeronautics Commission member Chris Funk of Madison acknowledged his support to halt the money was “short-sighted.”

But the commission was in a financial nosedive and would run out of money in 2026 unless spending changes were made, chairman Eric Odenbach of Eureka said.

Vice chair Bob Huggins of Sioux Falls agreed. “Where do we get that money is the thing,” Huggins said.

State Representative David Johnson of Rapid City said the commission left airports “in a lurch” when the state funding stopped.

The shortfall can be traced back to 2010, when the Legislature took $3.5 million from the commission to use for other needs. Lawmakers were looking for every spare dollar as the Great Recession rocked the nation’s economy.

Several years late, the Legislature returned $500,000 to the commission. But there’s still a $3 million hole. Johnson assured the commission the Legislature would be asked for the money again during the 2020 session.

Platte Mayor Steve Christensen told the state commission that he’s a pilot who uses his local airport. Christensen said his city’s budget had been cut $1.4 million. “We’re all hurting,” he said.

Losing funds for projects such as hangars and fuel systems that the state commission had previously funded “hits hard,” Christensen said.

The commission also decided September 24 that, starting in 2021, the state’s standard participation in most federal-funded projects would be reduced to 3.5 percent. It’s currently 5 percent. The decisions are summarized on page 2 of the commission’s annual report to Governor Kristi Noem.

Commission member Dave Luers of Pierre asked the state Department of Transportation staff to assemble a list of communities currently or potentially affected by the cuts and the amounts of the projects. “We need a number,” Luers said.

Data for the next three years will be delivered at the commission’s January 28 meeting.

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