By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Harlem Airport will be closed for a few weeks in July while improvements are being made.
"We're going to do almost a $2 million project," said Clarence Olson of Harlem, a member of the Blaine County Airport Commission.
The project will be paid for by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program. The program funds planning and development projects at public airports.
John Styba of the FAA airport district office in Helena said more than $1.78 million has been allocated for the project, which requires a 10 percent local match.
The allocation was based on estimated costs of the project, he said. Once the final costs and applications are received and reviewed by the FAA, the grant will be awarded, he added.
The improvements include widening the runway, upgrading the runway lights, moving the airport administration building, and moving or tearing down the hangar. Airport commissioner Tom Parnell of Harlem said the administration building and hangar are too close to the runway under FAA regulations.
Olson said additional parking space will also be built.
If the hangar is torn down rather than moved, it might be replaced with a private hangar and shop, he added.
The Airport Improvement Program has provided money for improvements at many north-central Montana airports in recent years, Styba said, including at Havre, Hogeland and Fort Benton.
Olson said the airport commission, which oversees the airports in Chinook, Turner and Hogeland as well as Harlem, plans to make improvements at the Chinook airport next year.
Blaine County Commission Chair Don Swenson said the improvements at the Harlem Airport will greatly improve safety.
"It's definitely going to be a big benefit for the county," he said.
Parnell said the improvements will also increase the number of landings possible during bad weather.
The airport will eventually be improved to an all-weather site, he added, but the Federal Aviation Association limits the number of projects done each year under its improvement program.
The improvements may allow larger airplanes to land at the airport and "it will also make it better for the ones that land now," Parnell said.
Olson said the heaviest use of the airport is for air ambulance flights taking patients to hospitals, and for doctors coming to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Some local people also use it for crop spraying or other private purposes, he said.
Parnell said the construction is scheduled to start in July, after most of the crop spraying is completed. Some work that won't interfere with the use of the airport might begin before that, he added.