By DIANNE ALWARD-BIERY
Cleaver Staff Writer
HARRISON – The October meeting of the Clare County Airport Committee touched on a multitude of topics, beginning with the Airport Manager’s Report from Gale Bensinger, who updated Committee members on several items which were also listed under Old Business.
Those items included the intended rotating beacon light purchase; the windsock tower repair; runway lights status; and repair of the turf runways. It was suggested that relocation of the windsock and the tower repair be put on hold until spring. It also was decided to wait a month, then purchase the rotating beacon lights, but not install them until spring. Bensinger noted the ongoing work of moving dirt around to smooth the turf runways, and any serious turf work waiting until spring.
Also discussed was the purchase and installation of two 16-foot gates on the airport property: one near off Industrial Drive and the other on the north side of the airport. That will include four support posts, and Administrator Lori Phelps suggested the county maintenance department could pick up and install the posts and gates under her supervision. Phelps also said the county might be able to do snowplowing as it does at the courthouse, sheriff’s department, senior center, and the animal shelter which is next door to the airport.
It was noted the importance of snowplowing to the restaurant and providing access for pilots who fly in to the airport year round.
Phelps also spoke of working on an encompassing grant which would be submitted to include a new runway, concessions, etc. She said that would begin with a phone consultation with an Economic Development Administration representative in December where the project could be introduced, and after the EDA representative give the go-ahead, the actual writing of the grant would begin in January. Phelps said she believed the county had “a good shot at it.”
Committee Chair Gabe Ambrozaitis pointed out that a plan that included a previously suggested runway lengthening would create a safer runway, and one that would not involve the currently suggested tree clearances on adjacent properties. That is because the RPZ requirements change when the adjacent areas involved are uninhabited. That led to comments from Bensinger about the importance of simply taking down trees rather than trimming them which allows the problem to simply grow back. Ambrozaitis agreed, noting that the MDOT Bureau of Aeronautics representative had recommended tree removal.
He also emphasized that none of the potential tree-cutting actions had been brought to the property owners to the north, because if the runway orientation were to be changed to northwest-southeast, that would be a new conversation with different property owners. At that juncture, Phelps suggested the committee have a Plan A and a Plan B, based on the results of the grant process.
New Business included discussion of the possible closure of Runway 5/23 and the positive aspects of doing so, such as the northeast portion of the runway becoming a taxiway. As Commissioner Rickie Fancon was absent from the October meeting, it was decided the Committee should wait to make that decision until all commissioners were present.
It was noted that there had been concern about the restaurant which sits on leased airport property, and Commissioner Gabe Ambrozaitis said he was waiting to talk with the restaurant owners about that lease due to possible future airport plans [based on the grant outcome]. He said part of that plan would include an upgraded new structure, to include a restaurant facility whose front door does not sit on the Business Route 127 highway right-of-way as it currently does. Ideally, the concessions portion of the airport terminal would create a new restaurant leasing opportunity, and an upgraded facility for the restaurant operator.
Ambrozaitis said the new structure would create something more usable than the current one, which does not include a pilots lounge or passenger terminal. He said that has led to asking the restaurant to do something [provide the pilot sign-in log book] it should not be doing.
“It’s not their job to track airports and pilots,” he said. “That’s the airport manager’s job, in a building that is designed specifically for that.”
A visitor to the meeting was Dusty Ely, whose son is taking flying lessons, ergo he sought some insight into what has been happening with the local airport, as well as the potential for hangar space. It was noted that the airport needs to set rules, such as exist in the City of Clare Airport, requiring airplanes to be airworthy and insured.
The committee then moved to give Gabe Ambrozaitis the authority to start a discussion with the City of Harrison and Hayes Township to reinstitute a mutual effort for airport funding.
Ambrozaitis said that making it a three-municipality effort would carry great sway with the EDA in its consideration of the proposed grant. © Clare County Cleaver
The Airport Committee will meet next at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27 in the Board of Commissioners Room in the Clare County Building, 225 W. Main St. in Harrison.
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