WILLISTON—Bryan Lee has a pilot’s license, and he farms on lakefront land. The two may not seem like an obvious pairing, but Lee is a member of a small group of Williams County men who are hoping to turn two fields bordering Lake Sakakawea into a private airport and residential area.
“They had this land and they said this is a unique thing to our area,” Lee said of two farmers, Bill Sheldon and Mike Ames, who own property east of Williston in Nesson Valley Township adjacent to the lake.
The three men formed Red Mike Airpark LLC, and aim to obtain approval from county officials to turn 258 acres into a runway bordered by houses and airplane hangars.
They hope to attract small aircraft pilots who’d like the chance to take off and land right next to their homes.
“We’re flying enthusiasts,” Lee said. Sheldon, his father-in-law, flies with him occasionally, and Ames is a pilot as well.
The group presented the idea Tuesday to the Williams County Commission, which approved a request for a zoning change from agricultural to urban residential. Among the next steps is a request to close a section line road that divides the two fields and provides public access to Lake Sakakawea. Closure of the road would allow a runway to stretch about 3,500 feet, and eliminate public travel in an area used by airplanes.
The section line is an unpaved road that leads to a cliffside, Ames told commissioners. Public entrances to the lakeside on gentler terrain are also found a mile to the east and to the west, he added.
“I feel what we’re doing here isn’t really taking away people’s access to the lake, because there isn’t any (on the site),” he said.
Commissioners were non-committal on the request, which will be brought up again in future meetings.
“There would be an issue because a section line is public access, but they can still go ahead and do what they want to do,” said chairman David Montgomery, pointing out that a denial would allow the public to cross the runway.
If county officials do not agree to close the section line, the project will be re-evaluated, Lee said.
Preliminary plans include room for 17 lots bordering a runway and taxiway, where buyers can build homes and garages or
hangars, although the site won’t exclusively cater to pilots.
“It is unique for North Dakota, there’s not a lot of lakefront lots,” said Sheldon, who owns much of the property that the men hope to turn into a fly-in residential community.
Lee said he’s spoken to a number of local pilots who have expressed interest in finding an alternative to using Williston’s Sloulin Field, especially in light of the airport’s upcoming relocation.
“Their focus is commercial and their focus is jets,” Lee said. “They’re moving away from small propeller planes.”
The project is not associated with the Red Mike Golf Course, which sits about a mile away.