HARRISON – Efforts to repair the substantial – and hazardous – longitudinal and lateral cracks in the paved runway at Clare County Airport 80D have been lengthy and arduous. It had seemed that recent discussions with the Michigan Department of Transportation Bureau of Aeronautics would yield long-awaited crack repairs, and there was some repair accomplished. Unfortunately, the contractor MDOT used arrived unannounced to do the job, filled some of the cracks (partially filling only 100 feet of the 1,200-foot runway) and then – indicating they had dispensed all the product allotted and considering their contract fulfilled – left.
Thus, with a job half-done being a job not-done, the Airport Committee sought Board of Commissioners support for completing the crack-filling work, which would place the proverbial Band-Aid on the runway while a longer-term plan for the airport could be developed/instituted. Dewayne Rogers, Clare County Road Commission managing engineer, presented information on materials and costs to the BOC Committee of the Whole, including some road commission labor hours. The $20,989 cost for that Band-Aid would come from the General Fund. When a motion to spend that amount was brought to the June 21 Board of Commissioners meeting, it was shot out of the sky on a 5-to-4 vote.
That left the Airport Committee essentially moving back to Square One [which also could be an apropos reference to the 1987-1992 children’s TV program that taught the importance of decimal point placement].
Enter Dewayne Rogers – again – as the hero of this story. When a new sealing mastic vendor, Maxwell Products, approached him about doing a vendor demonstration on a section of Clare County paved roadway, the bell of opportunity rang in Rogers’ ear. He then suggested to the vendor the substitution of the 80D runway for that stretch of roadway, which also would eliminate the headache of having to shut down a section of highway for the demonstration. The vendor – whose product GAP-Mastic MOD 201 (PolySkin) is in direct competition to the previously quoted product Crafco Mastic One – saw this project as a great opportunity and came proffered a huge discount in order to take advantage of it. That discount would also be a benefit to the company as surrounding road commissions and MDOT [prospective customers] could also see the product being used. Rogers estimated the new proposal would finish 90% to 100% of the needed crack repair.
Presenting that proposal at the July 17 Airport Committee meeting, Rogers explained that the vendor was truly eager to do the project and would provide his product to the County at a substantial discount. The offer also included a two-day free rental of the machine used to apply the product. Rogers then offered the services of a couple CCRC summer employees at no cost to the county as a good faith gesture on the part of the road commission. And, while the demonstration is aimed at showing the road commission the benefits of the vendor’s product, Rogers said he couldn’t justify that cost coming out of his budget when it’s going for use to the county airport, as the CCRC and County are two separate entities.
“That’s probably my final and best offer to the County Airport,” Rogers said, chuckling.
Committee Chair Gabe Ambrozaitis was quick to acknowledge the value of Rogers’ efforts.
“We really appreciate the foresight and innovative thoughts,” he said. “Because when he [Rogers] called me the other day and said ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea’ … it’s a great innovative thought. It’s [just] more than one-third of the cost you gave us before when you would have to have rented and purchased the materials at cost, and put labor to it. This is a whole different ball game; it’s an excellent idea.”
“It’s still a Band-Aid,” Rogers said. “But it’s better than weeds growing in it.”
Ambrozaitis noted the importance of putting that bandage on properly, and informed there were more than five aircraft that landed at the county airport the past weekend. Rogers added that he would need the help of Gale Bensinger, airport manager, to kill the weeds and clean out the cracks somewhat. Administrator Lori Phelps said she could direct some of the County maintenance personnel to help, and Committee member Rick Fancon said he would also supply a person for one day. It was decided the demonstration should be done in mid-August, which would provide adequate time for contacting other road commissions and to do the necessary runway cleanout.
The Committee then approved the following motion to be put before the BOC at its July 19 meeting: “To approve the purchase of 10,000 pounds of GAP-Mastic MOD 201 (PolySkin) for a vendor demonstration on the Clare County Airport runway in the amount not to exceed $6,500 to come from the General Fund.”
When that motion came before the BOC, it was stated simply as “To approve $6,500 from the General Fund to finish the crack seal on the runway.” Wording aside, the Board voted unanimously to approve the motion, and work on Runway 18/36 will proceed.
Attending the BOC meeting were several local pilots, who took the time to explain some of the airport’s current and potential value to the community, and also to reiterate that actions to secure any available government aviation grant funds falls to the County rather than to private citizen pilots.
During his report to the Board, Commissioner George Gilmore noted he was glad to see repair work on the runway, but would like to see the Airport Committee or the Pilots Association come up with a business plan that would show how the airport could be self-funding. Gilmore said he sees the airport as a large drain on the county with very little benefit for many people.
Kim Kennicott, pilot and former Airport 80D manager, responded to Gilmore’s comment about the airport reaching a state of self-sustainability.
“Airports aren’t self-funding,” he said. “Clare Airport’s not self-funding. Governmental units are not self-funding. Governments spend money, they don’t make money. You’ll find almost no small airports in Michigan that will actually make money.”
Referring to the July 17 presentation to the Airport Committee by Gary Todd, Clare Municipal Airport manager, Kennicott pointed out that the Clare airport comes close sometimes and that it was within $13,000 to $14,000 of actually breaking even in the past year. At that meeting, Todd had indeed clearly stated, that despite his airport’s successful, productive position in the community, it has yet to break even.
“It’s just the way they are,” Kennicott said. “Because they can never sell enough services to actually pay for the cost to run them; that’s just the facts, that’s just the way it is. They’re a governmental unit, and they promote business in the community.”
Chair Jeff Haskell agreed that a plan for the future could help in determining costs to better inform decisions about the airport moving forward.
Kennicott finished by describing the possibilities for replacing the existing paved runway with a diagonal 3,000-foot paved runway, leaving one turf runway, thus opening up the whole south side of the airport for expansion/development.
“If we can find funding, it’s the best of both worlds,” he said, adding that would include having a nice airport, space for a solar farm if desired, expansion of industries. “It’s really the right thing to do, it’s just a matter of finding ways to do it. Making money? I’d love to say yeah, we could make a pile of money – it don’t happen, folks.”
Gilmore then said he didn’t think the airport needed to make money, but that he believed it needed to help be self-sufficient, so he would like to see a business plan indicating it was working in that direction.
At the end of that particular day, it would seem the County, the Clare County Road Commission and the Airport Committee, along with local pilots, are catching on to the value of groups with common interests working together to accomplish a mutually beneficial goal. In simple terms, they have embraced the traditional “barn-raising” mentality while applying the adage: Plan your work, and work you plan.
Here’s to this project’s smooth sailing under clear skies.
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