GRAND MARAIS—Construction is underway at the Grand Marais/Cook County Airport, where the single runway is being extended from 4,200 to 5,000 feet and widened from 75 to 100 feet. Rodney Roy, the airport’s fixed based operator, says the first phase of construction involves the preliminary dirt work and will be completed this year.
Next year, the dirt work will receive final compaction. Then second phase of construction, paving, will begin. While bids are still out for the second phase, the project’s total cost is approximately $5 million.
The Federal Aviation Administration is funding 90 percent of the project’s cost, using revenue derived from the sales tax on aviation fuel. Typically, local government pays the remaining 10 percent of the project’s cost. In this case, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has committed to 5 percent of the cost and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board putting $100,000 into the project. The local government, Cook County, is responsible for less than 5 percent of the project.
The runway extension is needed so the big water-bombing planes used to fight wildfires can utilize the airport. Presently, planes must fly from either Ely or Hibbing. The Grand Marais area has experienced several major wildfires during the past 15 years.
The longer runway will also accommodate corporate jets throughout the year. Presently, FAA safety requirements permit jets to use the 4,200-foot runway only when it is dry, which is during the summer. The FAA does not consider a snow-plowed runway dry, so jets cannot land during the winter. The additional 25 feet of width being added to the runway will improve safety for all aircraft when landing in crosswinds.
Since Cook County doesn’t have industries or large companies to attract business travelers, much of the traffic at the airport is tourism related, Roy says. Some visitors may fly to Grand Marais for a trip into the Boundary Waters. Others may spend a day or two along the North Shore. Occasionally, planes chartered elsewhere will bring a family group in for a vacation. No charter or airline services are available at the Grand Marais Airport. Local pilots Mike Raymond and John Barton provide flight instruction and offer scenic flights.