County plans to fence in airport, create new access road for residents

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The county is working to fence in the Dennis Kauffman Memorial Airport and pave a new road next to it that will be fewer than 30 feet away from some residents’ houses.

The county recently received a directive from the Michigan Department of Transportation detailing how the county must restrict access to the airport due to residents using it’s driveway, McKinley Road, to get to their homes and cabins nearby. According to MDOT the airport grounds must be fenced in to keep residents from entering at will.

Commissioner Larry Wilson said the county has received multiple complaints from the airport of reckless driving on Airport property. One of the most recent complaints had to do with one resident quickly driving down McKinley and nearly colliding with an airplane attempting to dock in a hangar.

In order to see exactly where the county should build the road, the board of commissioners had the property lines of the airport surveyed. It found airport property extends into areas where residents have built fences and sheds, thinking the land was theirs.

Wilson said he hopes to build the road in a way that will have the least negative impact on residents.

“We don’t want to make them clear that stuff out,” Wilson said. “We can, legally, but we don’t want to. … We’re trying to be as good as possible to the people.”

Wilson said the county has to complete the project by the end of next year. That includes clearing out trees and anything else that may be on airport property, constructing and paving the road, fencing off the airport and building a new access for residents to get to their homes. Wilson the project has no start date yet, but will begin as soon as the county has permission to remove the trees.

Part of the reason the county wants this done quickly, Wilson said, is because by the end of 2020 the airport is expected to have at least seven new hangars for aircraft. He said the airport has already found people who want to house aircraft in the new hangars, so they will be immediately occupied. Wilson also said there have been three private groups who have reached out hoping to rent plots of airport land to build their own private hangars.

Patti Sherwood lives on McKinley Road and has been coming to the area since 1989. She said in the past her homes have been vandalized and burglarized, and she worries this new road will make her susceptible to that again.

“I’m very nervous about the safety of my property,” Sherwood said. “I’ve had no problems since I’ve moved back here. Now they’re opening up my property and the other properties to (burglary and vandalism).”

Sherwood’s property was one of the hardest hit by the recent property survey, losing a large chunk of what she thought was her front yard. If the road goes in as planned, it will be roughly 25 feet from the front window of her house.

“This is the property line and I agree with that,” Sherwood said. “I don’t understand why they need to spend so much when the county is already tight on money. … It’s their property, they can do what they want, but I’m a resident and I think we have a say as well. The county can’t afford this. The fence alone is going to cost so much.”

Sherwood said she doesn’t understand why the county can’t build a fence near the existing road, and allow residents to continue to use it as they have for years.

Wilson said the board of commissioners will be listening to residents’ comments, but he believes the current plan is the best way to proceed with the least impact possible. He said within the next few weeks letters will be sent out to those who live near the airport detailing what will be done, and allowing them to voice their concerns at a future meeting.

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