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Local view: Oberstar earned airport terminal honor

A few months after Congressman James Oberstar left office I picked him up at the Duluth International Airport for a day of appointments. At the time the new terminal was coming together, so I rounded up then-airport Director Brian Ryks and asked ...

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The new terminal at the Duluth International Airport will be named after the late Congressman Jim Oberstar. (File / News Tribune)

A few months after Congressman James Oberstar left office I picked him up at the Duluth International Airport for a day of appointments. At the time the new terminal was coming together, so I rounded up then-airport Director Brian Ryks and asked if he could give the congressman the nickel tour. He said he was pleased to do so and dropped everything to meet Jim at the gate. The three of us roamed around the relatively empty shell of the developing building, picking our way around, through and over various pieces of construction equipment, supplies, wiring, trusses and girders. Brian pointed out what was going where, and I think we all imagined what it would eventually look like. At the end of the tour, Jim thanked Brian, and Brian thanked Jim for all he had done to make the new terminal a reality.
Today, the new terminal is up and running and is a state-of-the-art testimony to Jim Oberstar’s commitment to transportation in general and aviation in particular. It’s no surprise, then, that the new terminal is being named after him (“Duluth airport terminal to carry Oberstar’s name,” Jan. 24). In a sense, it was preordained.
When I served on the Duluth Airport Authority Board and we were planning the new terminal, the running, implied joke was that it would, at some point, be named after the congressman.  He had been intricately linked to the airport as far back as when he was an aide for Congressman John Blatnik. He was more so connected after entering Congress in 1975.
It was no surprise that one of the first meetings I attended as an aide to Jim was with then-airport Director Ray Klosowski and his staff to go over funding requests. It seemed there was always something that needed repairing, replacing or improving. I lost count of how many times I was at the airport on congressional business.
Mostly, though, I was there either picking Jim up or dropping him off. Outwardly, it was professional duty. But it came to be more personal for me, seeing the congressman striding out of the gate, carry-on bag in hand, ready for a few days of meetings and events - only after a quick stop at the bathroom or because he had been greeted by someone. Sometimes, during those moments, I’d see him glancing around the old terminal and probably thinking, “This place is a complete muff.”
I agreed. The old facility grossly outlived its usefulness. I was among many who wished for something better. That wish came true when I had the opportunity to have a humble part of the planning and implementation of the new terminal as part of the airport authority board. It helped to have a boss in Congress with the political muscle to pump the needed money our way.
Nancy Norr, who I served with on the board, said she was grateful for the years of support Oberstar gave the airport.
“The honor of naming the terminal in the congressman’s name is appropriate,” she told me. “We were blessed to be able to call on him whenever.  He set us up for the 21st century with the completion of the new terminal.”
Ryks concurred that Oberstar led the way in securing the terminal funding.
“The project clearly would not have happened without his full support and willingness to promote it at every opportunity with the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration,” Ryks emailed me from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he’s now executive director of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. “Congressman Oberstar displayed a sincere passion and understanding of the important role airports play across regions and was successful in passing forward-thinking aviation policy which generated tremendous respect from colleagues throughout the aviation industry.”    
The new terminal is a wise investment not only for airport operations but for the local aviation cluster and regional businesses. Companies such as Cirrus, AAR, Enbridge, Amsoil, Monaco Air Duluth and others benefit from this investment.
So, of course, the Twin Ports benefits.
And we can thank Congressman James Oberstar for that. I will be among many who look forward to seeing his name on the terminal.

Dave Boe of Duluth served on the Duluth Airport Authority Board from 2004 through 2008 and worked for U.S. Rep. James Oberstar from 1998 through 2011.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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