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Bemidji Regional Airport looking to future

Bemidji Regional Airport is holding a groundbreaking ceremony this morning for its Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility.

The renovation work is being done concurrently with the $8 million airport terminal expansion and renovation project with funding a part of that project.

But Airport Authority Commissioner Jim Lucachick said Wednesday evening that he won't attend the groundbreaking ceremonies, which include U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District.

"I can't go in good conscience when I oppose the project," Lucachick said after a public hearing was held on a $1.3 bond issue for the terminal project.

"The project is over budget," he said, adding it was over designed as well. "I'm very much opposed to the total renovation of the building. It is elitist."

The terminal, built in 1991, was then described as a 100-year structure, he said. Now, renovation is being done at $200 a square foot.

"We could have done better within the community than with Minneapolis architects," Lucachick said. "I will always tell you what I feel."

It was the first time that Lucachick said publicly he opposed the terminal project, although he has voted against various measures to fund it. He is a Beltrami County commissioner, first joining that body in January 2009. He joined the Airport Authority this January.

"I won't be part of a hip-hip-hooray because I'm not in favor of the project," he said. "I couldn't effect any change because I came in late."

But he said now he will be a watchdog over construction and construction costs.

"We were facing code issues," said Harold Van Leeuwen, Airport Authority executive director. He said the 20-year-old building needed electrical and bumbling upgrades that would require a major uplift of the building.

"You run into things when you remodel," he said.

Also, Van Leeuwen has said previously that security requirements since 9/11 have tightened up space, with a secure area needed. The new building will have increased space for security checks and secure waiting area.

He added that remodeling needed to be done to handle 50-passenger jets, something not envisioned in 1991.

"We can't go up, we can't go out, we can't go back," Van Leeuwen said of special construction designs for a building that close to airport runways and landing approaches.

"I hope we can go 20, 30 years with this, and it still is a 100-year structure -- we're not undoing the structure," he said.

The public hearing lasted less than a minute as no one showed up, even with the Airport Authority waiting 15 minutes to open it.

It was to have allowed people to ask questions on the $1.3 million bond issue the authority is issuing mostly to match federal funds for the terminal project. It will be paid back with passenger facility charges - fees placed on outbound and inbound passenger tickets.

About $1 million will provide the local match and $300,000 for contingencies and parking lot improvements.

Today groundbreaking will be held on a renovation of the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighters Facility, located east of the terminal building. Operated by the Bemidji Fire Department, it will be expanded to hold two rigs and eventually will serve as the department's northwest substation.

The groundbreaking is set for 10:30 a.m.

Another groundbreaking for the terminal project itself will be held July 24, featuring U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.