Chamberlain breaks ground on airport terminal, named after longtime city engineer Greg Powell
It's the first step in a multi-step project to improve the airport, and attract lucrative pheasant hunting traffic to the region.
CHAMBERLAIN — The Chamberlain Municipal Airport is getting a better "front door" this year, starting this week.
The airport, located on the south edge of the community, broke ground on a new terminal on Thursday, April 20, which city officials hope will be an asset that helps bring visitors through the Missouri River city.
Most notably, leaders look at its importance during pheasant hunting season, who believe they're leaving potential tourism revenue on the table with an airport that is too small to handle large private aircrafts.
The terminal, which is planned to be finished this fall, will be the first building people walk into when they fly in to the airport.
"It's the front door to all visitors,” said Chamberlain Mayor Chad Mutziger.
In addition to serving people who fly into the airport, it will also include a rest spot where pilots can stay in between flights. Currently, the pilot rest area is housed in an addition to the residence of the airport manager.
"Right now, hunters can't even fit on the runway sometimes in their private jets," explained Mike Lauritsen, the community's former city administrator who helped get the project approved locally and pursue state and federal funding for the project.
An SEH Engineering analysis from 2017-2018 looked at aircraft operations counts for airports in Mitchell and Winner along with Chamberlain for a 12-month period. Each of the airports saw about 100 flights or less for most of the year, but during hunting season in the fall, Mitchell and Winner's airports have large jumps in operations — between 350 and 450 flights in a month — and Chamberlain's peak remained under 150 flights per month in the fall.
Lauritsen says that the airstrip is going to be repaved, which will make it a more attractive airport for hunters who might have flown in to Mitchell or other regional airports.
"The more hunters who land here, the better it will be for our town, because of all the tourism revenue it will generate," he said. "Tourism is the number two industry in the state … This is huge for our community."
That same analysis showed 2016 information that indicated a non-resident economic impact of nearly $21 million annually from pheasant hunting between Brule and Lyman counties, with nearby Tripp County accounting for nearly another $11 million.
Mutziger said the upgrades will also help the local hospital and emergency services in the Chamberlain area, because of the airport's proximity to Interstate 90. He said there's about 15 events a month that require medical personnel to use the airport.
"We live near a highway, and the reality is, there are accidents there," Mutziger said. "The thing is, our hospital doesn't have all the emergency room features some other hospitals do. So instead of having to drive a couple hours to another facility, they can leave from our airport in a helicopter and be there in 15 minutes."
The project will have a special designation when it's complete. The new terminal will be named after longtime Chamberlain city engineer Greg Powell, who retired in 2021. The name was kept as a surprise by Lauritsen until Thursday.
"This is huge, for us to have a place for pilots to actually have a lounge, and a place to relax and unwind,” Powell said.
Most of the money for the project comes from state and federal grants. The largest source of funding for the project comes from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through its 2022 Airport Terminals Program, which funded $613,000 of the estimated $950,000 project with $969 million total given in grants to 85 airports across the country. The money for the program came from funding by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The other major grant source was from the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT). Combined, grant sources funded $855,000 of the estimated $950,000 project.
The terminal is part of the multi-stage plan, with plans to repave the runway this summer. Another runway is scheduled to be built in a few years. Currently, the Chamberlain airport has only one concrete runway and a second grass-only runway.