The view from inside of one of the hangars the city recently invested in building, as the automatic hangar door is being opened.

As the year of 2020 passes by, so does the 74th anniversary of the Onida Municipal Airport. The year was 1946 when the groundwork of the municipal airport first started, and after its completion, the airport has been used by a variety of different people, such as aerial sprayers, businessmen, fishermen, and even politicians. The airport is located one mile west of Onida, and it has gone over many different changes over the years. It remains a welcoming sight for anyone who lands there, whether because of adverse weather, planned meetings or lunches, or to fly in to fish on the Oahe Reservoir.

“It was a city airport developed by local pilots in the early 50’s,” said Rolly Kemink, former chairman of the advisory board. The Airport Board developed the Onida Municipal Airport as a benefit to pilots flying in from outside of Onida at an initial cost of around $700,000. “It had a very short runway of 1800 to 1900 feet of gravel, which started at one ditch and ended at another.”

The runway was so short, “spray planes had problems in particular, leading them to using the highway instead,” said Kemink. In 1990, the board announced plans for expanding the airport.

“We formed an airport board to develop a better airport,” said Kemink, “and the aeronautic division from Pierre was open to the idea, they helped a lot.”

A public meeting was scheduled for February 26, 1990 in which the Airport Board described the planned $800,000 improvements, and explained its impacts the community. “The original grant was a local entity, that being the city, paying five percent,” said Kemink, “but the city didn’t have to put any money into it. State engineers and regional bureaucrats out of Chicago were helpful. There was trouble getting signed off by bureaucrats in Washington to get the project funded.”

With the funding, the Airport Board would address the concerns that people had with the airport, which were safety and the economy. One of the reasons for expansion was that the airport didn’t have any hard surface runways. There were soft spots on the runway when it became wet, and the runways were too short, which was inadequate for anything other than a single-engine plane.

The Onida city council voted 4-3 in favor of the project, and committed $2,500 per year for three years for the project, leading to a total of $7,500. Soon after, the Sully County Commission voted to support the project as well and contribute $17,500 to it over three years.

“There were people in Onida that wanted to fight the airport because they thought it would cost tax money,” said Kemink, “which it didn’t. After that was found out, it went to a public vote in which the people were overwhelmingly in support of the development.”

On June 7th, 1990, it was announced that voters had expressed substantial approval for funding the airport improvement. Over a three-year period, $7,500 would be contributed toward improving the airport by the city council.

Read the Rest of the Story in The Onida Watchman! Single copies are $1.00 each and available at the Watchman office, 106 S Main, Onida, and at The Corner, Don’s Food Center, and Vilas Healthcare in Onida, the Medicine Creek and The Junction in Blunt, and at Dakotamart in Pierre. Subscriptions are $36 in Sully, Hughes, Potter, Stanley and Hyde Counties and for people in armed forces; $38 elsewhere in SD; $40 out-of-state; $1 single issue; $36 E-Subscription; or plus $12 to print subscribers.