Agency Wants Aviation To Be Terminal's Primary Purpose
The Northern Great Plains Interagency Fire Dispatch Center
should be concentrating on fires... but is instead facing
The FAA is to render a decision this month if it will seek the
removal of the multi-state agency to free up the space for
aeronautical purposes. Last year's FAA policy on moving non-revenue
generating governmental operations out of airports is to blame,
according to South Dakota television station KOTA-3.
The center is one of several agencies housed in a terminal at
the Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota. The terminal was
empty in 2001 when the state, airport and then-governor Bill
Janklow hammered out a lease agreement. The state then initiated
$1.8 million in improvements.
The dispatch center coordinates firefighting efforts in South
Dakota, Nebraska and part of Wyoming, and has operated in its
current facility for five years.
Airport executive director Mason Short says they'll be able to
hold out -- for a short time, anyway.
"There's plenty of chance they'll stay there for a while," Short
said. "We don't consider this a threat to the immediate fire season
and look forward to continuing dialogue with the state to come up
with an alternative location."
The South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression, a state
radio center providing law-enforcement and emergency dispatch
services and several federal resource agencies also have offices at
the remodeled terminal and will more than likely follow the center,
according to The Rapid City Journal.
Janklow believes the original agreement should continue to be
honored. He doesn't buy the FAA argument that the space would be
better utilized for "aeronautical purposes."
"There is nothing about that building which brings about such a
demand from the FAA, other than arrogance and haughtiness," Janklow
said via e-mail. "The city of Rapid City and the FAA both agreed to
the building's current use. It is a far too valuable and necessary
emergency asset to allow bureaucrats, who are without vision but
who possess great power and authority, the right to destroy its
Short said the FAA has warned aviation uses are to be the
priority for the terminal. "As long as the space wasn't needed for
aeronautical purposes, it wasn't a crucial issue," Short said.
But that has changed, he said. Demand has increased for aviation
"We're running out of space at the airport for aeronautical
uses. We have to make room for those uses," Short said. "At the end
of the day, that's really what we're out here for, is to be an
airport. That's our mission."
The old terminal does serve aeronautical purposes as it is.
Firefighting and other emergency aircraft are housed there.
"So I think this is an aeronautical use that goes along with it
(the dispatch center) that has not been recognized," South Dakota
Governor Mike Rounds said. "We do think we've got evidence that
shows this is an appropriate use for that location."
Thirty-two other dispatch centers across the nation are housed
on airport property, according to Joe Lowe, coordinator of wildland
fire suppression for the state. Even the national interagency fire
center in Boise, Idaho, is housed in an airport, Lowe said.
"This has served us well. It's a more efficient way to dispatch
fire resources," Lowe said. "This consolidation has reduced costs
to the taxpayers. The center serves the citizens of the state, and
not just the few private aircraft owners that need hanger
Rapid City Mayor Jim Shaw said it "makes sense" to have the
dispatch center as well as related agencies at the airport.
"The air tankers use the airport, and fire personnel fly in
there during wildfires," he said. "I fully understand the airport
is running out of space for new private hangers and aviation," he
said. "But I would hope that common sense could prevail and that we
could continue this use. It's a good partnership between a number
of different agencies."
Short said only about 100 of the 1,800 acres owned by the
airport are suitable for development. The old terminal is a prime
location for aviation service, he said, and the city and airport do
come under the authority of the FAA and its requirements, he
Janklow said he hopes the city and airport board refuse to "cave
in" to FAA.
"The FAA has no legal right to evict anyone," Janklow said.
"They don't own the building. It was and still is owned by the city
of Rapid City, and the FAA has no legal right to willy nilly evict
Short disagrees. He said the airport and its board determine who
leases space, but the FAA "provides millions of dollars for airport
maintenance and upkeep." It's likely the FAA will eventually get
its way, he said.
The 20-year agreement comes up for renewal every three
Jason Glodt, a senior advisor to Gov. Rounds, said they are in
negotiations with the FAA to allow the center to remain where it is
at least through the summer.
Short believes the center will be ok for this fire season, but
the next one is uncertain.
"I believe it is has a very vital mission in our community,"
Short said of the dispatch center. "And we welcome the opportunity
to visit with the state, which we have done, to put a facility at
the airport - just not on that spot."