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The Onaway City Council recently sat down with Presque Isle County Commissioner Bob Schell to address some concerns about the Leo E. Getz County Airport in Onaway.
Onaway City Manager Joe Hefele requested Schell attend a council meeting to help get questions answered that have surfaced during several recent conversations about the airport.
Schell addressed an article that had been written in the newspaper that stated the Onaway city airport may be being closed down or given to the city to operate.
“It caused quite a bit of concern. I was also concerned when I read that. I am not in favor of shutting this airport down by any means,” said Schell. “The problem that we have is that only one county airport qualifies for federal grant money. The grant money has, of course, been awarded to the Rogers City Airport, which is the official county airport.”
The grant money goes toward about 90 percent of any improvements that are done at that facility, with a 3-to-5 percent match from the county.
Schell said he has been concerned about neglect of the Onaway airport, because it now needs more than crack sealing and patching of the runway.
The runway will likely need to be resurfaced.
“Our airport manager, Mike Jermeay, you probably all know, made the suggestion that maybe we should look at abandoning it, but I am not in favor of that,” said Schell.
The city could consider taking over management of the airport if it could determine whether city airports are eligible for grant funding.
There is no possibility that the county would change the status of the airports, making the airport in Onaway the official county airport, without having to reimburse all of the grant funding that has been given to the Rogers City airport.
Schell said he has voiced his concerns to the airport authority board, and he will restate them at future meetings, to make sure they are heard.
The airport in Onaway is a daylight only airport, because lighting has fallen into disrepair and no longer meets specifications.
The estimate to fix the lighting and bring it up to code was more than $50,000.
“Which, like I say, without federal grant money, or state grant money for that, the county didn't see any way we could afford it right now,” said Schell.
The airport in Onaway gets approximately the same number of flights coming in and out as the Rogers City airport on a regular basis.
However, the issue is getting pilots to go inside and sign the logbook, so the airport gets the credit for the flight.
The last maintenance to the airport in Onaway was done a few years ago when it was sprayed for weeds.
Now, the runway needs to be resurfaced, among other areas that need attention.
Several council members stated they felt some money does need to be spent on the airport to get it back in shape and running properly.
Schell said he agrees the county is responsible for the airport, and it has been neglected.
There are several safety issues that need to be addressed as well.
He will take the concerns voiced by the city council back to the commissioners and the airport authority and do his best to get them addressed.
He also suggested one of the council members attend a county commissioner meeting to voice the council's concerns.
There are two options that are available with the airport, either shutting it down or setting up a budget to pay for need repairs.
“You can't leave it the way it is for much longer, so we either invest in it, or you know,” said Hefele. “So you probably need some type of a budget on it to just get it back into working order.”
The Presque Isle County board is currently working on its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Schell said he is part of the Presque Isle County Finance Committee and will make sure that any money appropriated to the airports will be coming to the airport in Onaway.
“We've more than spent the fair share in Rogers City, I think,” said Schell. “But like I said, the problem has been that we can't get federal funding.”
Even with the money being appropriated to the airport in Onaway, there is no way all of the issues with the facility can be addressed in one year.
It would be up to Jermeay to put together a budget for the work that needs to be done and to submit that to the county commissioners.
Schell said the first step would be to develop a budget that outlines all of the repairs that need to be done, such as lights, runway resurfacing and tree removal, so county commissioners can get the full overview.
“Whether it's done over three years or whatever, at least you have one number that you are looking at, versus doing one thing and not having any idea of how much the other things are going to cost after that,” said Hefele.
Original article can be found here: http://www.cheboygannews.com