Tree-cutting work, one aspect of the Airport Improvement Project that drew protests from some community members as updates approached, is now winding down in newly negotiated easements around the Price County Airport.
For Trudy Schragal, who’s lived in the Elk Lake neighborhood since 2005, tree-cutting meant a loss of a much enjoyed wooded view and the morning walks through the woods that had become a routine for her and a group of neighbors.
“Now, I can stand on my back deck and look all the way to Airport Road, which I never did before,” Schragal said.
Schragal noted that she was fortunate in that she didn’t lose any trees out front like some of her other neighbors, though she still lost that section of woods she so enjoyed strolling through.
“I think it’s just horrible to look out there and see all those piles of perfectly fine pine trees, and you know, now instead of beautiful scenery, we’re going to have vacant land,” Schragal said.
Schragal points back to the devastation of trees seen when the big downburst moved through Phillips in 1977. “It’s sort of easier to understand nature… but when it’s manmade and they bring these huge machines of destruction in to cut trees off at their bottoms, it’s completely different.”
The family of her partner, currently a resident at Aspirus’ Regency House, had inhabited the land around Schragal’s current home for 50 years, building a small retirement cabin on the site. In time, Schragal and her partner also decided to retire on the land and constructed a home of their own there.
Moving to the Northwoods from Chicago, Schragal said that she was “thrilled to come up here and enjoy small town life and not have the hustle and bustle of everything that goes on there.”
Schragal added that in her time in the Northwoods, she’s tried very hard to become a real part of the community, joining the Countryside Artists, the Northwoods Players theater group and working with Regency.
“I mean, I consider this my home. I don’t want to have to leave,” Schragal said. “It’s still beautiful, but my problem is… one of the things about the Northwoods that’s so beautiful is that you can have nature all around you, and every time they take away trees like that, you lose a habitat.”
She expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the work, mentioning that she hadn’t seen as many birds or the fox that had frequented the neighborhood since tree-cutting work began.
“…With every newscast, you hear about global warming or the change in the weather pattern, and I think this winter, we’ve experienced that firsthand.”
Schragal also wonders how the neighborhood’s changed look will affect travelers’ plans to stay in the area. Her house serves as something as an informal resort for out of town relatives, Schragal noted, adding that family members give business to restaurants and other local establishments when in the area.
“They always say, they never sleep as well as when they stay up here,” Schragal said.
Close to an acre of Schragal’s land has been impacted by tree cutting and trimming work. In total, 17 privately owned parcels ranging from 0.59 of an acre to 37.43 acres were touched by airport updates in some form or another. All but five of those property owners saw less than two acres impacted by the overhaul. Compensation for easements ranged from a low of $3,500 to a $90,000 settlement, with the median compensation rate coming to $27,800, according to figures in an airport financial statement prepared on April 2.
Compensation for easements are included in AIP funds, according to Price County Airport Manager Brian Ernst.
The estimated cost for easement and simple land purchases came in at about $489,200 as of April 2. Other acquisition costs brought total land-related expenditures to around $1.1 million, according to figures in the financial report.
The total estimated cost of all project aspects, including construction and engineering work, came to about $4.1 million in April 2 financial updates.
Based on funding guidelines for the federally managed Airport Improvement Program, 90-percent of the costs for approved projects are covered at the federal level with the county and state sharing evenly in the remaining 10-percent of expenses.
That means, given current estimates, the county’s share of project costs comes to about $196,621.
Schragal said that she’s learned a number of lessons as a result of protesting the project, adding that she was always interested in politics but never politically active in the past. This process caused her to really start writing letters to the editor along with letters to the governor, senators, and the FAA, as Schragal explained.
“I really got involved, questioning what the sound reasoning was about needing this expansion when we know that we don’t have an airport that’s that busy,” Schragal said.
From where she stands, Schragal counts maybe one corporate jet flying in a week, the rest being mainly pleasure fliers, she stated.
These types of recreational flights might increase, depending on the weather, Schragal said, “but I don’t think corporate-wise it’s increasing.”
Schragal noted that she’s not against the airport and is happy it’s here, having lived with it for 50 years; she just doesn’t think the airport expansion was necessary.
“…Now I think we’re seeing the absolute consequences of people thinking, ‘if we don’t take this money, somebody else will,’ and in the meantime, we’ve changed the landscape for many, many years to come,” Schragal said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to see a woods again in my lifetime. I was hoping to leave this [land] as a legacy to the younger generation, and hopefully they’ll be able to see it.”
From Schragal’s perspective, the one good thing coming out of the airport project was its power to bring neighbors together for visits and help them get to know each other better.
“...It made us all realize we were not alone in this. We had people that were willing to work together, and we tried as best as we could to plead our case,” Schragal said. “But I just would say to people, don’t ever think that you’re going to beat the government because they have a big stick. You can only fight it so long, and then they’ll come and just condemn your property, so you’re going to lose either way, which is unfortunate.”
While he’s not able to provide exact figures on airport usage, Price County Airport Manager Brian Ernst emphasized that airport facilities serve as a vital link between the county and those high-profile executives who do business in the area.
In fact, Mike Henningfeld, director of operations and development for Four Seasons Community Development, said that “if it wasn’t for the airport, Barry-Wehmiller [parent company of MarquipWardUnited and Four Seasons] wouldn’t be here.”
Back in 2002 when that business known simply as Marquip pre-merger filed for bankruptcy, Price County Airport’s close proximity to the manufacturer of corrugated and sheeting machinery really served as the main selling point for getting Barry-Wehmiller in Phillips, as Henningfeld explained.
He said that initially Barry-Wehmiller CEO and Chairman of the Board Bob Chapman was unsure of just where the little town of Phillips was or how to get to it. Finding out there was an airport right next-door, he thought he’d check it out, as Henningfeld explained.
“And the rest is history,” Henningfeld said.
Four Seasons, a hospitality and general contracting business, own all Price County locations of Barry-Wehmiller outside of MarquipWardUnited facilities. Among other buildings, Four Seasons holds two hangars at the Price County Airport, the second of which was built recently to accommodate upgraded aircraft that no longer fit in the original hangar, according to Henningfeld.
Once aircrafts have access to the parallel taxiway and extended runway currently under construction, the flight ceiling will be lowered, meaning Barry-Wehmiller should be able to bring more flights in when weather conditions are marginal, as Henningfeld explained. Currently, planes are redirected to Rhinelander, Wausau or another area airport in such weather conditions.
The longer runway will also make larger fuel purchases possible, Henningfeld said. “We love to buy fuel in Phillips, and the longer the runway, the more weight you can take off with.”
Ernst noted that the main factor prompting runway 1/19’s extension came down to safety, given the potentially dangerous intersection with runway 6/24. However, he acknowledged that the update does carry the possibility of an economic bonus in the form of allowing larger fuel purchases. A number of factors, such as passenger and luggage weight, conditions on the runway, and air temperature, influence the amount of fuel jets are able to take off with, as Ernst explained.
If ideal conditions fell into place, he estimated that with the longer runway a jet could carry an additional 200-gallons worth of fuel, amounting to about $962 when figuring in today’s fuel cost of $4.63 per gallon, according to Ernst.
The company’s use of airport facilities varies depending on what’s going on in its calendar. At times, there may be multiple jets coming in over the course of the same day, or a few weeks can pass without a single jet visiting, according to Henningfeld.
But access to the airport is crucial when the time for a meeting does arrive, as Henningfeld explained. If company reps and customers flew commercial, it would take them about a day to get to Phillips, a day to go through the meeting, and then a day to make the trip home, he said. With private aircraft, they are able to fly in, hold a meeting and return home all in the same day, meaning airport access saves those involved about two days in travel time each gathering, according to Henningfeld.
Barry-Wehmiller is currently at the helm of 50 companies falling in all different points across the U.S. and even overseas. With such widespread bases of operation, air transportation is the only really reasonable way for the corporation to meet its needs, as Ernst explained.
Henningfeld said that the presence of Barry-Wehmiller-owned businesses impacts local communities in a big way.
In the Department of Workforce Development’s most recent Workforce Profile completed in 2011, the Phillips location of MarquipWardUnited is listed as one of the top-two employers in Price County, boasting between 250 and 499 employees at the time that snapshot of local industries was taken.
Four Seasons has 10 full-time employees and hires other temporary workers on an as-needed basis, according to Henningfeld.
Henningfeld noted that in addition to meeting the accommodation and travel needs of those traveling to Phillips from outside of the area, Four Seasons opens up its facilities for use by other groups in the community. For example, members of the Phillips School Board have led their annual meeting from a conference room at the Barry-Wehmiller University Learning Center on Phillips’ Long Lake.
Ernst said that additional corporately-owned businesses, including Family Dollar, Subway, Krist Oil, CDW, & Jeld-Wen, are also served by the airport. In addition, facilities see firefighting aircraft stop by at times to meet their fueling needs. Then, there are those private individuals who regularly land at the airport to stay at vacation properties, drop off or pick up new passengers, or visit local businesses, as detailed by Ernst. A fulltime airplane mechanic is also on the field, drawing in a fair level of traffic from aircraft in need of inspections or repairs, according to Ernst.
“In this case, I would tend to look at it as the good of the whole versus the individual,” Ernst said, noting that the affected landowner is “correct in that the government has the right through the eminent domain process to take what it deems necessary from the individual for the overall benefit of the county when the individual is unwilling to come to an agreement.”
As Ernst explained, it would then still be up to the county to prove its case via the judicial system and process of eminent domain.
Ernst added that he holds the position that the county needs the airport, with its facilities serving as “a vital link to a healthy economy. Ernst stated, “In order to maintain this link at an acceptable level to be attractive to current and future job-producing businesses, we had to acquire these avigation easements to make sure Airport operations are conducted in a safe manner according to FAA standards.”
Outline of project work
As of April 15, Karl Kemper, resident project representative of Becher-Hoppe Associates, Inc., reported that probably a week’s worth of approach clearing remained on the project site’s south end, and one property on the north side still had to be “brought into compliance.”
In an interview this March, Kemper explained the process determining whether a tree needs to be taken or trimmed.
“Off the ends of the runways, there are approaches that come up, so what we’re doing is clearing anything that is poking up into that approach surface,” Kemper said. “…That’s just for the safety of the airplanes.”
Ernst noted that trees coming within five feet of the approach surface, forming something of an inclined plain over the airport and surrounding lands, are also being trimmed.
That gives the trees some time to grow before they’re penetrating the approach surface, Kemper said, explaining that maintenance work on the approaches then needs to be repeated every five-ten years, depending on how fast the trees grow.
The location of the property in relation to the runway largely determines how tall the trees there can grow, with the approach space falling lower the closer a property gets to the airport, as Kemper explained.
“Wherever possible, the trees are being pruned instead of removed,” Kemper said.
Trees located on airport property are being clear-cut to avoid dealing with maintenance down the road, as Ernst explained.
Once tree cutting and trimming work is done, the focus of crews on the project will shift to any restoration tasks that remain, Kemper explained, noting that this area of work involves stump grinding, raking and planting grass in people’s yards.
So as not to interfere with bird nesting season, tree work above the ground needs to wrap up by May 1.
Ground wood products from the easement sites are being sent for use at the local hardwoods plant. Harvested pulpwood cut to chord length is either going to landowners who requested the wood or will be piled up for sale by the airport to get some revenue from it, Ernst said.
All personnel on-site for tree-trimming and cutting are certified arborists, Kemper emphasized.
Each member of the crew is required to have five years worth of experience, Ernst added, noting that the landowners met with arborists as the process was moving forward. The arborists looked over individual properties with the permission of landowners, after which a whole plan was put into place for each property incorporating the recommendations of the arborists along with wishes of the landowners, as Ernst explained.
“Sometimes, they don’t mesh exactly,” Ernst said.
The reports, prepared ahead of easement negotiations, broke down not only the arborist’s recommendations to bring the property into compliance given its proximity to the approach space but also future maintenance observations, a breakdown of merchantable timber on the land and recommendations for trees that could safely be replanted without interfering with approaches, along with other info, Ernst said.
The task of replanting is generally up to the individual landowners, though in at least one case, the agreement calls for planting some screening trees to block a property’s view of the airport.
As part of her easement agreement, Schragal and three neighbors are going to collaborate on a plan to try and reforest some of the land “so that we can at least, you know, have the woodsy feel,” she said.
One remaining component of the Airport Improvement Project beyond tree-cleaning work involves relocating the driveway that provides some property owners with access to their land. Residents in a section of the Elk Lake neighborhood currently reach their homes via a road that cuts across airport property. Once updates are complete, their access point will be Elk Lake Drive, with new sections of driveway added along property lines to get residents home. Trees growing along the current driveway will be replanted by a property owner in the area, as Ernst explained.
A fair amount of electrical work, including signing and lighting modification and relocation of navigational aids, also remained as of the last project update. Remaining paving work on the runway and adjoining features is set to resume once the ground dries out and weather conditions are right.
Story and photo: http://www.pricecountydaily.com
Trees are trimmed and removed from properties falling in newly acquired easements around the Price County Airport as part of larger updates to airport features. Karl Kemper, resident project representative of Becher-Hoppe Associates, Inc., noted around the time this photo was taken that things might look a little rough on some properties as cleanup and restoration work had yet to take place.