Anoka County History: Airport proposed for Ham Lake fuels controversy

This is the third in a series of three articles.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, Anoka County became the center of controversy concerning a proposal for a new metropolitan airport. The site would be in Ham Lake, northeast of Highway 65 and Bunker Lake Road, stretching north to the southern boundary of Carlos Avery. Citizen groups and public officials around the county lined up in support of, or in opposition to, the proposal. Twice the Metropolitan Airport Commission voted to endorse the Ham Lake location, and both times the Metropolitan Council rejected MAC’s endorsement. After the second time, in December of 1970, the battle seemed close to being over. Airport proponents, however, were unwilling to let the matter die without firing a few final shots.

Sixteen Anoka County citizens, including a number of mayors, filed a suit to void the Metropolitan Council’s decision and restore MAC’s choice to build in Ham Lake. The Pro-North foundation, a group favoring the Ham Lake site, ripped Metropolitan Council, and the Pro-North president said the time had come to get rid of the Council. It was, he said, an unelected “metro monster” that made arbitrary decisions. Local legislators also criticized the Council. A couple of bills in the state legislature sought to revive the Ham Lake site. One would have given MAC final authority to name the location, and the other would have stripped the Metropolitan Council of its review powers.

On the other side, the Circle Pines city council commended Metropolitan Council’s action. The Circulating Pines newspaper, which had opposed the Ham Lake site from the get-go, warned its readers not to celebrate too soon because the airport proposal wasn’t quite dead yet. It enumerated the terrible things that could yet happen: newly elected Governor Anderson could appoint pro-airport representatives to Metropolitan Council, the mayors could succeed with their lawsuit, and the FAA could choke off funding to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

None of these took place. The pro-Ham Lake legislative measures fizzled out. The impasse continued most of the year, and in November MAC and the Metropolitan Council established a joint site search committee for a major Twin Cities airport to replace the existing Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, which would be used only by small and quiet planes. In December, the Anoka Area DFL sponsored a debate: “Ham Lake Airport: Yes, No, or a Dead Issue?”

In December of 1972, the joint committee recommended a northern site without naming a specific location. They held meetings and people showed up to support and oppose this choice. By this time many were questioning whether a second airport was needed at all.

Airport news became less and less frequent in the Union and other newspapers. As with so many issues one follows through the papers, reportage diminished and eventually disappeared. The new Anoka County airport seemed an idea whose time had come and gone.

Writer’s note: On Lake Netta Road in Ham Lake there’s a tract enclosed in a locked chain-link fence and posted as the property of the Metropolitan Airport Commission. MAC has a page on its web site that invites questions, so I submitted one asking for the story of this property. I didn’t get a response. I could be a good vigorous reporter and follow up, but the answer is probably boring, and it’s more fun to speculate, to imagine that this land is being held aside for the day that the next airport proposal comes forth to roil the citizenry.

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

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