Isle Airport, (MY72) is a 2,460-ft turf airfield on the southeast shore of Mille Lacs Lake, two miles from the resort town of Isle. Currently it is owned by the City, but is charted “Private” because membership in the Isle Airport Association (IAA), which operates the field, or prior permission from an IAA member, is required for use. “The RAF has been interested in assisting the Isle Airport Association since 2016,” RAF Minnesota Liaison Kurt Pennuto said. “Isle airport fits perfectly within the mission of the RAF,” he added.
There is pressure on the City Council to close it for other forms of development. The fate of the airport will be decided at an Isle City Council meeting in April [Update on 4/7: the April City Council meeting has been cancelled due to COVID-19. The meeting will now occur on May 12, 2020.]
On March 4, AOPA, Minnesota Pilots Association, and the RAF invited the public to a town hall informational meeting to gather facts and discuss the future of Isle Airport. Kyle Lewis, AOPA Regional Manager for the Great Lakes Region reported that 70 attendees from the community attended, including business owners, residents, area pilots, and city leaders. Dave Retka, IAA president gave a history of the airport and projects completed by the Association. He shared some data showing that in 2019, pilots using the airport spent over $51,000 at local Isle businesses. “The private use status of the airfield has strangled the potential, not just for the pilots who want to use the airport, but for the community of Isle as well,” he said.
Paul Noskowiak, RAF Minnesota Ambassador, provided details about the RAF’s airport grant program for infrastructure and safety upgrades for recreation-use airports. Lewis gave a summary of AOPA’s airport advocacy work, the possibilities of educational opportunities, involvement and co-existence with the community.
On March 10, the Isle City Council met, and on the agenda was whether or not the airport should become public. The RAF and MnDOT were there, including MnDOT aeronautics office director Cassandra Isackson, who gave a detailed comparison of similar Minnesota airports in public ownership. “If Isle made the choice to become public, it would receive state funding,” she said.
Isackson presented the council with three choices: close the airport, keep the airport open as a private facility, or keep the airport open and pursue public status. If the airport remains open, removal of some trees encroaching in the approach would be necessary.
The MnDot representatives outlined the steps necessary to complete the public license, pointed out available state funds, and shared the recently completed airport economic impact survey using comparable airports. Becoming public poses challenges such as the forming of a new commission to revise current zoning.
Pilot Ben Thuringer operates a Gull Lake resort and said the East Gull Lake Airport is vital to his business. “If it weren’t for the airport, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in the area would be lost,” he said, to point out the benefit Isle Airport would be to its local businesses.
“I left with a good feeling that Isle Airport may actually return to Public Use,” Retka said. “The next step is the April 14th council meeting,” he added.
If the Council votes to keep the airport open, the RAF expects to get involved with volunteers and resources. “We look for opportunities to partner and support, and to work side by side with organizations, communities, private and public groups to create, preserve, maintain airstrips for recreational flying,” Pennuto said.
“It’s a gem, don’t lose it” – pilot Ben Thuringer, operator of Maddens Resort on Gull Lake
Submitted on March 30, 2020