Coon Rapids will not purchase hovercraft

The Coon Rapids Fire Department won’t be purchasing a hovercraft for water rescue operations above and below the Coon Rapids Dam after all.

Back in September 2012, the Coon Rapids City Council approved spending $91,800 for a hovercraft that it ordered from Universal Hovercraft.

Delivery was scheduled in January, but numerous production delays meant the delivery date was not met and the city has canceled the order, according to Fire Chief John Piper.

The final straw came when Assistant Fire Chief Bret Gageby and Fire Capt. Aaron Johnston stopped by the hovercraft manufacturer while en route to a fire service instructors conference in Indianapolis, Ind., in April and found that work on the Coon Rapids hovercraft order had not even started, according to Piper.

Gageby and Johnston were able to pick up and return to Coon Rapids with the 800 megahertz radio that the fire department had sent to the manufacturer to be installed in the hovercraft, Piper said.

The order was canceled April 29.

Instead, the fire department has ordered two boats, one for use above the dam and other below the dam, that will cost less combined than the budget for the hovercraft, even when training costs are factored in, Piper said.

Last year the fire department’s water rescue craft was taken out of service because multiple air leaks made it unsafe to operate and it was also underpowered to deal with the currents above the dam, he said.

According to Piper, the fire department needs water rescue equipment to respond to emergencies on the Mississippi River, which is heavily used by recreational watercraft on both sides of the dam.

The fire department recommended purchasing a hovercraft because it has the advantage of not being a boat in the traditional sense because it travels on a cushion of air and is not affected by rocks, currents, high water flow or ice, Piper said.

“But there were no other suitable hovercrafts available within the city’s budget,” he said.

Indeed, the next step would have been a military grade hovercraft with a price tag of $250,000, Piper said.

“The cost benefit of spending $250,000 is not justified,” he said.

To be able to respond to deal with above the dam, the fire department has ordered a 21-foot Zodiac with twin 70 horsepower motors at an estimated cost of $60,000.

“This will be able to handle the strong currents above the dam and will serve our needs well,” Piper said.

Delivery is expected in two months, he said.

For below the dam, the fire department is purchasing a 13-foot inflatable with a rigid hull and a 25 horsepower jet drive on which delivery is anticipated in the next weeks he said.

This watercraft, which does not have a propeller, will function well in shallow water and rocks which are found below the dam, Piper said.

It has an estimated cost of $18,000 bringing the total to $78,000.

“Both these watercraft will work well on Crooked Lake,” Piper said.

They will be housed at Fire Station 1, which is located on Egret Boulevard, just north of Coon Rapids Boulevard.

The entrance to the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park is on Egret Boulevard, south of Coon Rapids Boulevard.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office has helped out the city by loaning one of its boats so that the fire department still has water rescue capabilities, he said.

“The sheriff’s office has been very cooperative and we are very grateful,” Piper said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]

  • Scott Nellis

    Good! I had always wondered exactly how they would deploy the hovercraft below the dam as the shoreline is extremely rocky and fairly steep. Which still leaves me wondering how they will deploy the 13′ inflatable with rigid hull AND a 25 hp jet drive since there is NO boat launch on the lower part of the river within Coon Rapids. I suppose 6 or 8 very strong firemen could carry it down over the rocky shoreline. But still…..will we be seeing the city council asking for funds to put in a boat ramp on the lower side of the river?