Of all the issues lingering over the multi-faceted plan to create an industrial park at the former Bowman airport, its location sticks out as the most “heartburn inducing,” as one citycommissioner phrased it.
Bowman City Commissioner Chuck Whitney noted that the soil findings at the old airport gave him pause during a special joint meeting between the city and county Nov. 13 to review the project’s recently released feasibility study.
“When you just look at (the property) … it gave a lot of people heartburn,” said Teran Doerr, executive director of the Bowman County Development Corp.
Included in the feasibility study, findings of a soil study completed by Brosz Engineering of Bowman indicated that the location’s soil was quite poor. Brosz engineer Gary Brennan, who was also at the meeting, explained that the quality of soil is typical for western North Dakota though additional costs to build on the land would be noticed.
Stemming from the soil concern, another looming question was storm water drainage at the site. But it was said those problems would be mitigated, as was the point of the feasibility study.
“(Just) because we want (the project), doesn’t make it viable,” Whitney said during the meeting.
Pending the city and county’s agreement to move forward on the project, and the outcome of a public hearing on the matter, an official vote could be made as soon as Dec. 1 that would cement the proposed park’s fate.
The project is a gamble, but not one without its benefits, according to Doerr.
She said it’s worth risking millions of dollars—ultimately from the taxpayer—to see that the project succeeds. If it does, she explained, it would greatly benefit the entire county as it would add to the city’s tax base and bring in new businesses and potentially residents. To further ensure the project wouldn’t be too big a risk, the project is being phased.
“You’re going to have ebb and flow in your economy,” Doerr said. “We’re not here to jump out when things get tough, that’s when we really dig in and look at how we can grow our economy. Now is the perfect time to do that.”
County still on fence over land purchase
Bowman County would purchase the existing airport property for $646,000 from the Bowman County Airport Authority. The county would then buy an adjacent piece of land owned by the Wokal family, for about $238,000. The lands’ ownership would then be transferred to the BCDC and the county would effectively withdraw itself from the project.
That’s how Ross Graves of Gilmore Planning, who authored the feasibility study, envisioned the plan.
Doerr requested a “flat sum of money” from the county to move forward with the project, which includes the land costs, $85,000 for the feasibility study and about $20,000 of “seed money.”
But county commissioners weren’t entirely convinced.
During their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners carried on with discussion over the purchase. Doerr attended the meeting, making an official request from the funds to determine if the county was interested. Their interest was contingent on an upcoming public meeting on the matter and also the city’s decision to provide nearly $2 million from its surge funds to createinfrastructure at the site.
The only way for the industrial project to move forward was to have support and cooperation between the city and county boards.
Doerr expected the county to make a motion Nov. 17 to purchase the land, but that didn’t happen. Instead, commissioners opted to wait until after next week’s public input meeting. They chose to convene a special meeting the morning of Nov. 25 to make their vote.
‘Time is the enemy’
Time is not on the side of the project. So much so that there was debate about holding a public meeting prior to the city and county’s vote.
The timeliness issue falls to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the decommissioned airport—to ensure the FAA signs off on the airport authority’s plan to sell the land or, if the county rejects the project, to submit a new plan for the land.
The airport authority needs an answer before they can move forward with the FAA; “the airport authority needs to close on their project in order for us to start ours,” Doerr said.
While the project requires quick moves to be made, commissioners are still carefully considering whether to move forward.
“We don’t want to see the ball roll down hill too fast,” said Commissioner Ken Steiner.
From the county’s standpoint, one larger issue related to purchasing the old airport land was that they would also have to buy private aircraft hangars.
People thought the county shouldn’t pay for private buildings, Steiner explained.
In addition, Commissioner Bill Bowman said the county’s BLM fund, funds of which would be used to purchase the property, is “getting shallow.”
But Doerr explained opportunities are lost the longer the property is sat on.
Several neighbors surrounding the airport property stated concern, according to several commissioners. While Doerr said they were more unaware of the full plans, one county commissioner suggested it was a matter of utilities.
Once the airport land is annexed, the city would provide city sewer infrastructure to the site. The neighbors to the north are forced to use septic, but do have city water. The question was why the city couldn’t hook their properties to city sewer at the same time.
“For the city to justify bringing that utility to eight landowners out there, it would be hard and surge funding can’t be used,” Doerr said.
Bowman Commission President Lyn James suggested during the joint meeting that sometime in the future, those landowners could opt to hook up to the sewer at their own costs.
A sit-down meeting with those landowners is scheduled to take place prior to the public meeting.
What it means to have an industrial park
An industrial park is an area that is reserved for industrial businesses to be co-located. The Bowman Gateway Industrial Park would have multiple commercial and industrial zoned areas encompassing land at the old airport. The hope is for the BCDC to sell those properties to ag-related businesses, but no business would be ruled out.
It wouldn’t turn into a commercial area such as the one to the east of town, with Shopko and ACE Hardware, according to Doerr. The surrounding commercial spots would be tailored to the industry that’s out there.
Graves said it would have a nice look and ensure the western portal to the city is “under control” as far as its appearance.
He said he anticipates aggressive sales for commercial property considering its enhanced visibility and access.
The BCDC is currently actively pursuing a big anchor industrial business that would come in, perhaps buy a large portion of the acreage, and anchor everything at the site.