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"Minnesota airport pursues long grass policy to keep birds away from runways"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alexandria pursues plan to keep geese away from airport runways
Will a plan to make Alexandria's airport safer by keeping geese away from
the runways work or will it be a wild goose chase? 
By Al Edenloff
The Alexandria (MN) Echo Press 

Will a plan to make Alexandria's airport safer by keeping geese away from
the runways work or will it be a wild goose chase?

The Alexandria City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to give it a try. It
authorized the Alexandria Airport Commission to call for bids on a 10-year
contract that would transform 120 acres of the 205 acres of cropland at the
airport into grassland - 60 acres this year and 60 acres the next.

The successful bidder would be responsible for planting and maintaining the
grass and in turn, would be allowed to plant crops (not corn, however) on
the remaining 85 acres of airport land.

Airport Manager Todd Roth told the council that according to information he
researched on the Internet, geese will avoid the long grass, fearing that
predators will be lurking there.

Right now, the geese are gathering in large numbers on the airport's
cropland and the city can't go after them because it would damage the crops,
Roth said.

The number of geese ranges from the hundreds to the thousands. They
typically land on the north side of runway 13/31, just south of Lake Winona.
They occasionally wander onto the runways and taxiways and create a
significant safety hazard to aircraft operations in the air and on the
ground. "Collision with geese and ingestion of geese into engines and other
parts of the aircraft can have catastrophic consequences," the airport
commission noted in a letter to the council.

Not everyone is convinced that planting grass along the runways will be

Peter Boerner, who has been renting airport land to plant crops for more
than 20 years, told the council that the geese will still land at the
airport even if there is only five acres of cropland left. "It is not going
to work," he said.

Boerner said long grass would also lead to rodent problems and increased
fire dangers.

Boerner also didn't like how the contract specifications were written,
saying that a requirement for the grass planter to have three years of
experience working with natural grasses would exclude him from bidding.

Boerner said he favored a less complicated solution - either seed the entire
airport land with grass or alfalfa. The geese, he said, would avoid alfalfa
except for a few days after it's cut. Another solution would be to work with
the State of Minnesota to allow a goose hunting season at the airport, he

Roth said that Boerner could bid for the contract because he could hire
someone with the necessary experience to plant the grass, he said.

Roth said that the commission has been studying options at the airport since
the start of the year and considered the alfalfa idea but rejected it
because alfalfa would eventually deplete everything out of the soil and die.

A potential bidder, Josh Zeithamer, told the council that the airport
commission spent a lot of time putting the proposal together and had done
its homework. He said the specifications are modeled after the Minnesota
Department of Transportation's and are fair.

Council member Owen Miller noted that the contract allows the city to
terminate the agreement after five years if the grassland idea isn't

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