- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - The city of Williston has finalized land purchase agreements for a $240 million airport northwest of the oil patch hub, without having to forcefully take any land.

The City Commission received the signed agreements Wednesday, according to Assistant Airport Director Anthony Dudas. Construction at the 1,540-acre site is expected to start this fall, with a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for Oct. 10. The new Williston Basin International Airport is expected to be operational in 2019, funded by city, state and federal money.

“It’s a major accomplishment for the city,” Sloulin Field International Airport Director Steven Kjergaard said. “It’s going to help this community grow.”

City officials had been worried that they might need to use eminent domain to acquire some of the necessary land from private property owners. That turned out not to be the case, though the farmer who is giving up more than one-third of the needed land isn’t happy with the process.

Blaine Jorgenson told The Bismarck Tribune that he is giving up about 600 acres of his 1,100-acre farm because he knew the city would condemn the land anyway.

“I was disappointed with the way the negotiations went at the end,” he said, adding that the city is not covering his attorney fees.

The city’s existing airport saw a ten-fold increase in passengers from 2008 to 2014, due in large part to record oil activity. Traffic has fallen off during the current oil slump, falling more than 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, and some people still question whether the new facility is necessary.

The existing airport “has managed to hold all the thousands who were going through it, and boardings are down,” area resident Linda Granley told KUMV-TV. “I just think we need to work with what we have for now.”

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