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The Hot Springs City Council voted to increase the airport manager position to full time.

The Hot Springs Airport will now be under the direction of a full-time airport manager. In a split vote last week, the Hot Springs City Council approved increasing airport manager Ed Jensen’s position by 260 hours per year.

Jensen currently works just over 1,800 hours on a schedule that has him at full time for nine months out of the year and 20 hours a week for the remaining three months of the year. The council voted 4-3 to increase the position to full time, with Georgia Holmes, Martin Meyer, Sam Powers and Ron Richards in favor of the move, and Schuyler Wetzel, Carolann Schwarzenbach and Bob Nelson opposed.

City Administrator Kim Barbieri said the airport is averaging nearly 4,000 flights per year over the last three years, a significant growth rate that looks to continue. The airport is now also hosting more alternate-use events than ever before, such as skydiving flights, balloon launches and glider clubs. A new taxiway, finished earlier this year with a $1 million price tag shared by Hot Springs, FAA and South Dakota Department of Transportation, has also added to the maintenance responsibilities.

In addition, future development at the airport will continue to require more oversight. The Hot Springs Airport currently has 35 aircraft that call it home, up from 18 a handful of years ago, and there is a long waiting list for hangar space. The South Dakota Department of Transportation is considering adding hangar space in the future, which will generate additional revenue but require more oversight, as well as involvement by the airport manager in planning meetings, grant writing and coordination with the DOT, Barbieri said in a report she delivered to the council.

A contract for Pete Lien and Sons to mine gravel in areas surrounding the airport is in its final stages of approval by the FAA, and mining will be in full swing in 2018 as soon as those agreements are finalized.

“The airport manager position is becoming more integral to the economic development and sustainability of Hot Springs and the region surrounding the airport,” Barbieri’s report reads. “With additional activity at the airport, increased flights, additional responsibilities regarding mining and future development planning, the need for this position to move to a full-time position is becoming increasingly apparent.”

The Hot Springs Airport was named Airport of the Year by the South Dakota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics for 2016. The award was presented in March for medium-sized airports. Several criteria are used to judge the airports for consideration for the award, including utilization, overall appearance, professionalism of the airport manager, and management of the airport during winter months.

Another highlight this year was the second annual Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival in August. The event featured hot air balloon launches, glider rides and tandem skydiving. The event received the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association’s 2017 Special Achievement Award in October after it drew 800-1,000 people.

In other business last week, the Hot Springs City Council also:

*discussed including a continuous center turn lane on the U.S. 18B truck route, as proposed by the South Dakota Department of Transportation. Barbieri said there have been numerous complaints that it is difficult to enter traffic on the highway, while others fear they will be rear-ended trying to exit it. The council plans to hold a public hearing on the matter sometime after the new year.

*continued discussions on a proposal by Gen-Pro to install solar power at several city-owned properties, including Evans Plunge, the pumping station, water treatment plant, city shop, library, airport, civic center, depot and police department. Gen-Pro proposed a 20-year lease agreement on the solar units, but state law limits municipalities to 10-year leases. The matter was referred to the public works committee for further study.

*approved allowing the Hot Springs Rotary Club to construct a band shell/stage in Centennial Park. The Rotary Club will pay for the construction, but the city did agree to transfer about $900 in previously donated funds that were set aside for that purpose to the club. Barbieri said the band shell/stage should be ready for use for summer 2018 events.

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