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Watertown Too Close to Minneapolis for Big Airfare Subsidy, Say Feds

Keep your darned hands off my Essential Air Service!

So may shout some over-entitled Republicans who’ve been celebrating the chance to force us taxpayers to foot most of the bill for their larkish flights from Watertown to Denver. Barely two weeks after Aerodynamics Inc. opened its Watertown–Pierre–Denver air route courtesy of a new $6.8-million/year Essential Air Service subsidy, the Department of Transportation has ruled that Watertown is too close to the Minneapolis air hub to qualify for more than $200 in government assistance per passenger. Given that the subsidy just to get a the plane from Watertown to Pierre is $253 per passenger, the Department of Transportation’s ruling means Aerodynamics Inc. will need to up ticket prices or end its Watertown service.

Only towns farther than 210 miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport can qualify for more than $200 per passenger from EAS. USDOT says Watertown is 207 miles from MSP. Mayor Steve Thorson contends that, including Lake Kampeska, Watertown’s center is actually four miles further west, meaning the total trip is really 211 miles.

Let’s take a look at city limits as drawn by Google on MapTechnica:

Watertown city limits, screen cap from MapTechnica, 2016.09.04.
Watertown city limits, screen cap from MapTechnica, 2016.09.04.

Try to imagine the center of gravity of that grey shape, the point where you could balance that pancake-gone-awry on a pencil tip. With Lake Kampeska weighing us down in the west, I’d try maybe just south of the zoo, on Highway 20. I noodle around with Google Earth and find the centroid may be a little further west, between the fire department and the north-south runway at the airport.

But let’s weigh population. Check out the official Watertown zoning map:

Watertown zoning map, updated 2015.12.23.
Watertown zoning map, updated 2015.12.23.

The majority of land west of the river and Highway 20 is airport, agricultural, commercial, and industrial. The housing developments ringing Kampeska, southeast and southwest of the airport, and south of 212 appear to hold notably less population than the solid green and red residential zoning areas that dominate Watertown east of the tracks and north of 212. By population, the center of town might be closer to the courthouse.

That’s about where Google Maps starts plotting the trip from Watertown to the Minneapolis airport. Google Maps says the trip is 208 miles if you drive all the way on U.S. Highway 212. Keep due east out of Montevideo on Minnesota Highway 7, and the trip is only 203 miles. From the airport fire station, the drive is only 205 miles. Only some houses on the west side of Kampeska can claim a door-to-terminal distance of 211 miles. And USDOT, which apparently measures from “center of the EAS community” to the hub airport entrance, is not likely to accept a measurement from the farthest edge of town.

Aerodynamics Inc. says that from August 15 through August 31, it boarded 455 passengers in Watertown and 778 in Pierre. Both numbers are ahead of the per-flight averages predicted in the USDOT order selecting Aerodynamics Inc. to serve this route. If demand continues to exceed expectations, maybe Aerodynamics can afford to keep flying from Watertown without as big a welfare check from Uncle Sam.


  1. jerry 2016-09-04

    Maybe, just maybe the cat got let out of the bag

  2. Jana 2016-09-04

    Funny that Fred’s worried about tax dollars dedicated to getting more every day citizens to run for office in a state where over 33% of races go unopposed, but loves him some tax payer airline fares!

    Just wondering what Mr. Fred Deutch thinks is more important. A crony trip to Denver for his buddy Pat Powers to see a concert paid for by tax payers or more good and smart decent people running for public service.

  3. Rorschach 2016-09-04

    There just wouldn’t be much demand to fly from Watertown or Pierre to Denver without Uncle Sam picking up the bill. This welfare isn’t meeting a need. It’s creating a want.

    I prefer the government helping people put food on their tables or getting them a checkup with the doctor over paying for people’s vacations. This subsidy is frivolous. It is an affront to common decency. The government subsidizing vacations! Unreal!!

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-04

    Ror, I want to remember that line: Welfare should meet a need, not create a want. Subsidizing Pat’s vacation to spend more South Dakota dollars in Denver is no way to use tax dollars.

    Jana reminds me that the $6.8 million annual subsidy for Aerodynamics Inc. is more than the annual appropriation called for by IM 22. Let’s split the difference: $2.8 million to fund Democracy Credits, and $4 million to start making 212 four lanes to the Minnesota border.

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