Anoka County History: Possible Ham Lake airport site causes contention

By John Evans
Contributing Writer

This is the second in a series of three articles.

Late in February of 1969 it looked as though Anoka County might become the home of a new metropolitan airport. The Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) had just given its approval for a site in Ham Lake, northeast of Highway 65 and Bunker Lake Road, stretching to the south end of Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. Planners expected this new airfield would eventually dwarf the current Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and become the primary airport for the Twin Cities. The Ham Lake decision met with mixed reviews in Anoka County, with citizens’ groups organizing both for and against it.

Even with MAC’s imprimatur, the Ham Lake Airport was far from being a done deal. The Metropolitan Council would have to endorse the MAC decision and the state legislature would need to sign on as well. The Metropolitan Council was expected to act within 60 days, but that didn’t happen. While the council was either  seeking fuller information, or dilly-dallying (depending on your point of view), voices pro and con rose louder and louder.

Seven Anoka County mayors endorsed the Ham Lake site. Groups such as Minnesota Environmental Citizens Control Association opposed the site due to its potential impact on Carlos Avery.

The Anoka Union newspaper was open to the proposal, but, over in Circle Pines, the Circulating Pines newspaper remained adamantly opposed, never missing an opportunity to feature anti-airport news on its front page.

Northwest Airlines (NWA) weighed in with a preference for a south metro site.

The mayor of Blaine, who supported the Ham Lake site, complained that NWA was improperly influencing the decision. The mayor of Circle Pines asked MAC to fly panes around the proposed site to simulate the impact of takeoff and landing.

The state legislature acted, with proposals to modify zoning laws, to increase the allowable distance for a new airport from 25 to 35 miles from the cities, and to establish a state (rather than metropolitan) airport commission. None of these proposals became law.

Finally, the Metropolitan Council declined to endorse the Ham Lake site, sending the decision back to MAC for further review. Twenty-three area legislators demanded that MAC and Met Council get together and discharge their duties, or else they, the lawmakers, would have those duties placed elsewhere.

The fireworks on both sides kept coming. The Anoka City Council passed a resolution favoring the Ham Lake site.  Anoka County mayors issued another endorsement, this time with 14 signatures.

North Central Airlines seemed more in favor of a northern airport location than Northwest, though the Circulating Pines accused North Central of wielding undue influence.

The state DFL platform opposed the Ham Lake site on environmental grounds. A Department of the Interior spokesman issued a statement opposing Ham Lake because it would compromise Carlos Avery.

Anoka Mayor Elliot Perovich said that particular spokesman had no authority to speak on the matter. Interior Secretary Wally Hickel told Governor Harold LaVander that the department had not taken a position.

On Nov. 9, MAC once again voted support for the Ham Lake airport. This time the Metropolitan Council acted promptly, and in December they once again rejected the Ham Lake site, citing the possibility of environmental damage. The battle was almost over, but there were still a few shots to be fired.

John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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