Saturday, July 01, 2017

Greensburg, Decatur County, Indiana: Residents split on airport expansion

GREENSBURG — Passion and emotions filled the gym at City Hall on Thursday night as nearly 75 people attended to share their thoughts on the proposed airport expansion.

Over the course of one hour and 28 minutes, dozens took to the microphone to express their approval/disapproval of the expansion, many of which are directly affected landowners.

Background of the plan

Paul Shaffer of Butler, Fairman & Seufert was on hand at the public hearing to give a summarized background for the reason of the public hearing, the environmental assessment and reasoning for the expansion.

In essence, Shaffer explained the airport expansion need in three sentences.

“The current runway does not allow critical aircraft to operate efficiently,” Shaffer said. “They must operate with reduced cargo loads, reduced fuel or fly shorter distances before refueling. These deficiencies need to be addressed to fit FAA design standards.”

In order to do so, the civil engineers of BF&S researched and reviewed a total of five alternatives. They were:

Alternative 1: No action

Alternative 2: Replace and realign the runway

Alternative 3: Improve and extend the existing runway on its existing alignment

Alternative 4: Transfer the aviation activity to another airport or another mode of transportation

Alternative 5: Find a new site for the airport

“Alternative 2” was selected among the choices. It includes a 5,405 foot long by 100 foot wide runway lying west and south of the existing runway. It will be designed to land aircraft of C-II standards, most notably small to medium size business jets.

Thursday’s public hearing was to discuss “Alternative 2” and concerns in regards to it as explained in the environmental assessment.

Vice President Jon Dooley of the Board of Aviation Commissioners then took the microphone over to explain funding for the project from a sheet that was handed out to attendees at the beginning of the hearing.

Dooley explained that 90 percent is paid by the Federal Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is capitalized by fees of air freight, aircraft fuel and airline tickets.

Five percent is paid by a similar state program through INDOT’s aviation division.

The remaining five percent is the local share.

No specific dollar amount in terms of total cost or local share cost was shared with the public at the hearing.

Elected Officials, more share support

Dooley shared the views of three that addressed written comments to the Board of Aviation Commissioners but were not in attendance. Those three were Congressman Luke Messer, State Senator Chip Perfect and former Mayor Gary Bailey.

All three voiced their support for the airport expansion.

Bailey perhaps took the most aggressive approach toward those in opposition by stating that the project was being made more difficult than what it is.

“It is time to move forward as several local industries have expressed the need to expand the local airport,” Bailey said. “The City of Greensburg, Decatur County and the region as a whole will benefit. This is not a difficult project. When broken down to its basic forms it is nothing more than a slab of concrete in a field.”

District 67 State Representative Randy Frye was in attendance at the public hearing and read his opinion on the project from a written statement. Frye believes forward thinking now with the airport will lead to great opportunity similar to the way I-74 did for Greensburg.

“I spent a lot of time thinking today about this particular meeting and I was thinking about as a boy, an 8-year-old boy, and when my dad and I would talk about I-74,” Rep. Frye said. “The importance of I-74 as a kid, I did not understand it – even as a teenager when I first started driving on it I thought maybe it was a mistake. Sometimes you would drive from Batesville to Greensburg and not see another car. Well, where would Greensburg be today without it --- without forward thinking folks back in the day?”

Former City Councilman and current Board of Works member Glenn Tebbe spoke on behalf of current Mayor Dan Manus, who missed due to “health.”

“He (Mayor Manus), and I believe I can speak for the rest of the city officials, support the airport expansion project completely.”

No members of the Greensburg City Council were in attendance to hear residents' concerns or support.

Susan Burkhart, President of the Greensburg Chamber of Commerce, expressed the Chamber’s unanimous approval of the airport expansion project.

Executive Director of Decatur County Economic Development Corporation Marc Coplon shared three letters of support, as well as the EDC’s letter of support.

The first letter came from Honda (HMIN), the second from MainSource Bank and the third from Valeo. All three companies voiced their support for the airport expansion.

Coplon shared the EDC’s thoughts by discussing a fact that he believes both sides could agree upon --- time equals money.

“I think all farmers, manufacturers and service sector people would agree that time equals money,” Coplon said. “Time is money. When you are not able to fly direct, you lose time. When you fly directly in, the line is not down as long. If you fly an official in, he flies to Columbus and loses an hour going both ways.”

Former Mayor Gary Herbert, who notably spent his time in office working toward the airport expansion, was also on hand to give support for the project.

“An airport expansion will give this community an economic edge over other communities without an airport,” Herbert said. “It will save and serve this community and its businesses for use of freight and business in the future.”

Neighboring landowners, more share concerns, and disapproval

Greensburg resident Jim McIntire was the first to speak out in opposition of the airport expansion.

“In regards to the “could be” and “what if” about this project, I find myself lost,” McIntire said. “I don’t see where we are going with this. When Honda Manufacturing moved into the community they had an option to go to the east side of the county where they are closer to an airport that would meet their needs and they chose to be where they’re at.”

McIntire also shared that he thinks the true vision for the community has been lost.

“Somewhere along the line this airport board has forgotten where this community started a long time ago,” McIntire said. “That is a farming community. Now everybody wants to become this big manufacturing community that brings in all these jobs.”

Larry and Pam Robbins, whose property is directly impacted by the proposed plan, were the next to speak against the expansion.

“It hurts that when this started you wanted to take our house,” Pam Robbins said. “It still hurts to find that now you want to take somebody else’s land to save ours.”

Pam Robbins continued by considering property value.

“Our property (on CR 280 W) will hold very little value when the airport is finished,” Pam Robbins said.

Larry Robbins expressed his frustration with the process.

“In 2012, we came to one of these meetings and were promised to be kept in the loop as changes and news occurs,” Larry Robbins said. “It is 2017 and there is no loop.”

Decatur County resident Jean Johannigman, who directs the site in opposition of the expansion, spoke next.

Johannigman questioned the basis of the expansion.

“The buzz word that according to elected officials and many who are not informed on this subject that validates in their mind the ability to seek this grant and spend this amount of money and to eminent domain prime farm ground is ‘economic development’,” Johannigman said. “Where are the factual statistics to back up this claim?”

Johanningman followed up her questions later in her statement by referring to a 2014 story from the Daily News.

“I would like to quote another headline that was in our Greensburg Daily News of Feb. 13, 2014, by Boris Ladwig and it states, 'Decatur County Job Growth Second in State',” Johannigman said. “If we truly need this project for economic growth, how in the world did we beat out all but one county in the entire state of Indiana in job growth when many of them have an expanded airport already?”

Landowner Marc Haston in his own words decided to keep his comments simple and short.

"I think this in completely unnecessary and complete nonsense," Haston said.

Johannigman then spoke of behalf of the Goddard family. The Goddard family was unable to attend due to an upcoming medial procedure.

The Goddard family explained that they have owned their property since 1850 and their desire for this to end on the basis of there being no need for the expansion.

"The question of need is a myth," Johannigman quoted on behalf of Goddard. "Want is the basis for this endeavor and without need it is a huge waste of taxpayer's money and the exercise of wasteful and bad government policy."

Decatur County resident Gordon Smiley also voiced his opposition of the project, but wanted more options to be looked at because he understood the benefit.

"I think we have to look at this not as 'I'," Smiley said. "We need to look at it as 'we'. We, not Decatur County, we the region need to look at this. I guess I want to be a team player with the other counties around us. I don't want to be just an 'I'."

Residents Donna Stevens also spoke against the expansion with an eye turned toward safety.

"I worry about the safety of my grandchildren playing out on my three acres," Stevens said.

Written comments still open

Written comments are still open for acceptance moving forward. All comments will be added to the environmental assessment before it is turned into the FAA for approval.

Comments can be turned in by e-mail to or by mail.

The mailing address is:

Paul Shaffer

Butler, Fairman and Seufert, Inc.

8450 Westfield Boulevard, Suite 300

Indianapolis, IN 46240

Written comments will be accepted through July 10.

The Daily News will continue our coverage of the airport expansion as more becomes available.

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