Council faces time crunch with Dixon airport's future

DIXON – The Dixon Municipal Airport is in a holding pattern on what direction to take, but the city will need to decide soon whether it will be able to continue to receive federal funding.

The airport is part of a Federal Aviation Administration grant program that provides $150,000 a year toward improvement projects, but City Manager Cole O’Donnell said the airport could lose its spot if it doesn’t move forward with any work.

Airports need to undergo an improvement project at least once every 3 years to keep the entitlement funds rolling, and if the airport is booted out of the program, he said it might not be able to get back in.

“Because we have not used that grant program for the last several years, basically we’ve been put on notice that if we don’t do a project this year, we’ll be taken out of the program, so the money is lost forever,” O’Donnell said Tuesday.

Moving forward with the improvements is up to the City Council, which has been hesitant to act, given the 20-year obligation the funds carry. If the airport closed before the 20 years, the city would be responsible for paying back a portion of those funds.

Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said being tied into the fund obligations could “slam the door” to other options for the airport, such as consolidating with the Whiteside County Airport to improve its facility and focus more on regional economic development or to turn the Dixon property into an industrial park in the longterm.

“The Dixon Airport is never going to be big enough for sizable economic development,” he said.

Both options would take time to plan and assess, but Arellano said time is limited on whether the city wants to restart the 20-year timer on the FAA funds.

O’Donnell said the decision has to be made no later than July, and project plans will be submitted to the FAA in October.

“There is a deadline on this, so the council has to make a decision if they want to move forward with the grant-funded projects or not,” he said.

Airport Board member Mark Applequist told the council the airport has been making strides to improve itself and make it less costly to the city, and the board wants to continue moving forward.

“It’s a big chunk of change, and we’d like to keep the ball rolling,” he said.

O’Donnell drafted a list of capital improvements for the airport during the next 5 years – including improving perimeter fencing and runway lighting – but they would be based on receiving FAA funding.

The list also includes updating the Airport Layout Plan with the FAA, with the goal of having a section of land labeled as excess so it could be leased to house a solar farm. The cost of updating the plan is yet to be determined.

Councilman Kevin Marx suggested the council work more closely with the Airport Board and have work sessions to determine what direction to take.

The council plans to discuss the matter at its next meeting.

NEXT MEETING

The City Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at City Hall, 121 W. Second St.

Go to discoverdixon.org or call City Hall at 815-288-1485 for an agenda or more information.