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City seeks anti-deer defense for airport

The city of Wadena is faced with an interesting problem: stopping a legion of deer who for some reason appear to be bound and determined to get through the perimeter fence at Wadena Municipal Airport; and who have beaten a variety of security measures installed specifically to prevent them from doing just that.

On Wednesday, Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH) Engineering of Saint Paul was hired by the Wadena City Council to refurbish the perimeter fence and thereby alleviate a pest issue that has plagued the airport for years.    

City Administrator Brad Swenson said that that there have been several instances of aircraft colliding with deer as the planes try to maneuver on the runway. The crashes not only pose a safety risk for the pilot, but cost time and money as well, Swenson said. If a deer hits the plane’s propeller when a crash happens, he said, regulations dictate that the aircraft’s entire engine must then be inspected for damage.  

“I’m concerned when I hear that pilots are having more and more close calls,” Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said. “The cost to inspect and then repair an airplane is very, very high... we have a liability involved in that, so I think we’re taking the right route (in fixing the fence).”

Swenson said about half the total length of wire fence that guards approximately 10 acres of airport property is decaying as the wooden fence posts age and rot away. A similar situation is occurring with the entrance’s cattle guard; a concrete slab divided by many slots that trip up a hoofed animal if it steps in between them. It’s intended to deter the deer by having them see the obviously uneven ground and avoid the prospect of crossing it, Swenson said.  However, he said years of the city snowplow hitting the slots has chipped away at the cattle guard.   

If a deer gets through the fence or the cattle guard, the city’s last resort is to get a permit from the Minnesota DNR to eliminate the animal. A variety of nonlethal methods of dealing with the deer have also been attempted, but those ways have achieved mixed results.  Swenson said the city has tried using four-wheelers to herd the deer out like sheep, but the airport property was big enough for the deer to simply double back when being chased. A helicopter had better luck in getting the deer to move in one direction, but proved cost-prohibitive, Swenson said.

Another complication is the fact that it’s impossible to know precisely how the deer are getting into the airport. Swenson said there are several competing theories- deer jumping over the 10-feet-high fence, squeezing their bodies through wire fence squares and walking across the cattle guard when its slots are filled in by snow. Short of somebody actually witnessing the infiltration, however, it will remain a mystery.

“Nobody knows exactly because nobody sees it,” Swenson said.

On Wednesday, the city officially hired SEH Engineering to implement repairs to the perimeter fence system, as well as to possibly replace the cattle guard with a keycode-controlled gate. Swenson said the project is planned to be finished this fall and will cost approximately $16,900 dollars, but 90 percent of that will likely be paid for by an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) entitlement grant.