Le Sueur Municipal Airport has been awarded a federal grant of $107,963 for safety improvements.
The U.S. Department of Transportation funding was announced Tuesday morning in a press release from the office of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who along with Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Tim Walz worked together to help secure the grant.
Le Sueur Mayor Bob Broeder, who met in January with Klobuchar at the Le Sueur airport, said city officials had been confident the local facility would received federal funding. But it's never a given, he noted.
"We were very pleased to received the grant," said Broeder.
Klobuchar's January visit to the Le Sueur airport touted the facility's ongoing investments over the past three years, particular for safety improvements. Klobuchar at the time stressed the need for maintaining the state's rural economies, with small airports continuing to play a critical role.
"As our airports continued to serve our communities, it's critical we make investments so they can provide the services Minnesotans rely on," Klobuchar said in the July 12 press release. "Today's investment will help do that while also supporting jobs in Le Sueur."
Others in the Minnesota congressional delegation also applauded the grant award.
"The Le Sueur Municipal Airport is vital to the economy of southern Minnesota," Franken said. "This grant is an important step towards making sure our infrastructure operates in an efficient and safe manner for travelers and businesses alike, and I will continue advocating for smart investments across our state."
Walz, who has been representing southern Minnesota's First Congressional District since 2007, noted community airports remain a key link in the state's rural economy.
"Airports serve as a connection from local economies to the global market," Walz said. "Ensuring they have the resources they need is critical."
The grant is expected to be used at the airport, located on Le Sueur's south side along Hwy. 112, to remove tree obstructions in the runway approach and transitional surfaces.
The Le Sueur Municipal Airport plays host to about 2,500 landing and take-offs annually. It is also home to Scott's Helicopter Services. Owner Scott Churchill's also serves as the airport's "fixed base operator," which is open 24 hours, seven days a week. He's been operating out of the Le Sueur airport since 1981.
Churchill said the trees have been an issue throughout his years at the airport but new federal guidelines have likely brought the safety issue to a head.
"It is a safety concern," said Churchill, who also noted some of the funds will likely be dedicated to seal coating and crack filling on the airport's runways.
"It's a constant maintenance thing," he said.
Churchill also noted that Klobuchar "has been a real advocate for these smaller airports" throughout the state.
The airport had previously been awarded a nearly $550,000 federal grant for land acquisition. That September 2015 funding award was prompted by new Federal Aviation Administration guidelines to provide for additional safety for aircraft landings.
Le Sueur City Administrator Jenelle Teppen, who also joined Klobuchar and Broeder in the January visit, at the time said the federal dollars pay for 90 percent of the safety improvements, with 5 percent state and 5 percent city funding.