2010-06-12 / Top News

Tree Cutting Halted Near Island Airport

By Karen Gould

An unexpected turn of events brought a halt to tree cutting on the east end of the Mackinac Island Airport after engineers said they had made a mistake and not 99 trees, but possibly thousands of trees, were too tall, encroached on air space, and needed to be cut down. The project has been halted until the Mackinac Island State Park Commission can find out just how many trees need to be cut.

Commissioners were advised of the situation at their meeting Friday, May 28, by park director Phil Porter, who stopped the work.

“It's a much more significant project than we were led to believe,” he told the commission, which manages the airport.

Originally, the commission was told 99 trees were too tall and needed to be cut to clear the approach zone to the east end of the runway.

“We were working on the area. There was a surveyor out there to help us with the project,” recalled Mr. Porter. “We doubled the number of cut trees and they [engineers] said we still have hundreds, if not thousands, of trees to go.”

Before any more trees are cut, Mr. Porter said, he has asked the Michigan Bureau of Aeronautics to have their project engineering company, URS, mark every tree that needs to be cut down and provide the corrected information to the commission.

In the meantime, the commission is looking into several options, including replanting the cutover area with lower-growing trees or marking the area with red lights that only could be seen by pilots.

The goal, Mr. Porter said, will be to remain compliant with Federal Aviation Administration regulations while maintaining the character of the island.

“We've said for a long time that we are an Island with an airport, not an airport with an Island,” said Mr. Porter. “We want to make sure we respect park property that is around the airport in a way that maintains the natural integrity of the park while, at the same time, making sure we are compliant with the FAA regulations about these air zones.”

On the west side of the air- port, park staff now has appraisals and appraisal reviews for needed easements over properties on the west end of the airport. These properties are in the airport approach area and the commission is in the process of purchasing the air rights, called avigation easements, above the lots.

This is the second time the park has had to acquire avigation easements for the west end of the runway. The current project stems from the federallyrequired plan to move the landing strip 65 feet further away from a fence line on the west side.

Offers to purchase the easements will be mailed to property owners in the upcoming weeks.

This summer, the park is working with the Bureau of Aeronautics to replace the Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) and seal cracks and paint lines on the runway. The project is funded by a $164,500 grant.

The weather system provides pilots with access to current weather from the air and ground, including visibility, cloud height, temperature, wind direction, and wind velocity.

Also taking place on the airport's tarmac is a maintenance project that includes crack sealing and painting.

Next year, work will begin on a $4 million runway replacement project.

The next commission meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Friday, July 23, at Fort Mackinac.

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