Grand Forks City Council on board with mayor's plan to expand air service

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Feb. 12—GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks City Council on Monday received updates about the Air Service Expansion Committee at the council's Committee of the Whole meeting.

In October, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski brought together a group of

Grand Forks business and political leaders to discuss how to expand commercial air service at Grand Forks International Airport. Between 2015 and 2023, the number of enplanements, or people taking flights from Grand Forks, decreased by 35%.

"Every meeting that we've been at regarding economic development,

the airport comes up from service, from cost to 'its hampering my business

,'" said Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland. "We've heard that over and over again and it's only been validated when we've gotten out to seek input."

Even before the precipitous drop in enplanements due to the pandemic, the number of enplanements was down from its high in 2015 when the airport saw 145,272 total enplanements. In the five years leading up to 2020, Grand Forks saw an average of 125,461 enplanements a year. After dropping to 46,891 enplanements in 2020, last year saw 93,815, continuing a post-pandemic rebound.

But Grand Forks sees fewer flights a day than Fargo or Bismarck and competes for passengers with Fargo and, to a lesser extent, Minneapolis.

What the city would like to do is hire a consultant to help apply for an air services grant. This grant could help bring an additional carrier to Grand Forks, have a current carrier bring additional flights, or help bring additional connections to the airport.

"(Airlines have) gone to bigger airplanes because there are fewer pilots, which is why we have about the same number of seats in and out of Grand Forks but only three flights instead of five or six that we had pre-COVID," City Council President Dana Sande said.

A consultant would help the city execute a strategy to increase air service and flight options. The funds would be coming out of the city's economic development coffers. A final decision on a consultant likely will be made sometime in the spring.

The council didn't take any formal action, since it had lost a quorum before this item was addressed (it was the final item — a quorum existed for all other items), but still received information and will discuss it again next week.

The Committee of the Whole is an advisory body, so its decisions are only recommendations to the council and aren't binding. The council members who were there gave support for initiating a proposal to hire a consultant to help with an air services grant.

"On a positive note, if you look at what's going on in the community with Grand Sky, the base, Altru, the Alerus (Center) and UND, we're firing on all cylinders. I think its phenomenal," Bochenski said. "The effort is to get the airport up to that and to move forward. I'm excited about it . ..."

In other news, the council:

* Reviewed

Community Development Block Grant awards for 2024

. Because of a combination of there being a lot of money available for the last several years and projects being delayed, the city has missed the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's timely expenditure requirement two years in a row. This could mean the withholding of funds in the future if that continues to be the case.

* Authorized a request for qualification for consultant services for the redevelopment of the old water treatment facility.

The facility has been empty since the city switched to the new treatment plant in 2020.

* Discussed proposed enhancements to the Greenway. The project would focus on the area immediately surrounding DeMers Avenue and the Sorlie Bridge and update the over 25-year-old facilities.