Businessman wants to invest $2.5M in a regional airport that serves jet aircraft

CLARKFIELD -- Yellow Medicine County is considering a proposal by a private individual who said he is willing to invest $2.5 million to develop a regional airport capable of handling jet aircraft.

CLARKFIELD -- Yellow Medicine County is considering a proposal by a private individual who said he is willing to invest $2.5 million to develop a regional airport capable of handling jet aircraft.

Joseph Driscoll, who told the Tribune that he is based in Minnesota for his work with Driscoll Holdings, has expressed interest in developing the airport on land that he said he would purchase in the Clarkfield area.

Once built, Driscoll said he would turn over the airport's ownership to a regional board.

Driscoll said he recently purchased a home and land in the Clarkfield area to keep Arabian horses. His work obligations with Driscoll Holdings require that he be located in close proximity to an airport large enough to service his airplanes in the event that he is needed in an emergency.

He would like to develop an airport with a 6,000-foot runway to accommodate a Gulf Stream aircraft. He is also proposing to construct a taxiway and terminal building and install navigational lighting.


Driscoll said news accounts of his interest in developing the airport triggered speculation that Driscoll Holdings, which is involved in oil and gas development, might be looking at a project in the area. He said his interest is strictly recreational: He wants to be able to enjoy time on his horse farm and still be within the company's required access to air service.

Driscoll said he discovered the land near Clarkfield through friends, and fell in love with the area. "It's so quiet there. Everybody leaves me alone.''

Representatives from Yellow Medicine County and the city of Clarkfield met with Michael Louis, aviation planner with the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics, on Monday of this week to review the process toward developing a private airport.

Gary Johnson of rural Clarkfield, a member of the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners, said he had previously talked with Driscoll and learned of his interest in developing a private airport. Johnson said he believes that if an airport is to be developed, Clarkfield, Granite Falls and other municipalities could cooperate with the county to form a regional board to oversee it.

Johnson said he and others believe a regional airport could be a benefit to the area and possibly help encourage economic development.

John Chattin, county administrator, said the county's involvement has been to investigate what it would require to develop an airport. At this point the county is waiting for more information, he added.

Driscoll has contacted the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics about his proposal. Aviation planner Louis said that the state rarely if ever receives an offer by a private individual to take on the costs of developing an airport with intentions of turning it over to a public body. Louis said the state "strongly suggested'' that Driscoll consider working with area municipalities on the proposal.

Driscoll is free to develop a large, private airport, provided it is located more than five miles from an existing licensed airport, according to Louis.


Driscoll said he is not interested in a proposal to expand the runway at the Granite Falls municipal airport to meet his needs. He said the process of expanding the Granite Falls airport would take too long. It would require the acquisition of land and moving a county road, and it would be too costly, he said. Driscoll estimated the cost of expanding the Granite Falls airport at $10 million.

Driscoll also proposed creating an enterprise zone at the airport to promote economic development. He said the "choice is clear'' in the benefits of developing a new airport versus enlarging the existing Granite Falls airport. He said no taxpayer dollars would be required, and the airport could be developed at a site where it would not pose noise problems for neighbors.

Driscoll said he'd like to have construction started in the coming year, with completion within a year.

Louis said that will be a difficult schedule to meet. Developing an airport with a runway of 6,000 feet requires the completion of a state environmental impact statement, he said. Based on costs of land acquisition and development at other airports, Louis said he believes it will be difficult for Driscoll to accomplish what he proposes for $2.5 million. Louis said Driscoll spoke to them about this plans.

Driscoll spoke to the Tribune on the telephone and declined to identify his home address or the location of his Minnesota office.

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