Airport Master Plan Process Slows in Wake of Faulty Data

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–A raucous response to faulty data supporting a longer runway at a July meeting of Airport Master Plan Advisory Committee has consultants and city staff considering the next move.

In July, Greg Stern, of Mead & Hunt, the airport master plan study’s project manager, showed a slide indicating 84 percent of respondents to a survey of potential users of the Middleton Municipal Airport living in surrounding states preferred a 5,000 to 5,500, foot long runway. Thirty-six percent said the existing 4,000-foot-long runway was adequate.

The audience’s response to that finding and committee members wanting to examine more aspects of the impact from the possible expansion of the airport caused the committee to postpone scheduling of the next meeting.

Since then, Mead & Hunt’s $250,000 contract with the state Bureau of Aeronautics (BOA) and the City of Middleton may be amended and extended to consider more outcomes including a “no-build” option for the airport.

“That will be explicitly addressed in the amendment,” said Mark Opitz, city planner and zoning administrator and liaison to the AMPAC.

The master plan study now should continue for several months into 2020.

The contract amendment hadn’t been drafted as of Sept. 20, so Opitz couldn’t say if there would be a cost increase or not. 

The city tapped TIF #3 funds for its share of the master plan study.

Other developments since the July AMPAC meeting included throwing out results of a survey, called “Survey #2,” which strongly supported a longer runway. AMPAC Chair Leif Hubbard and city staff have agreed with Mead & Hunt’s recommendation not to use those results. An earlier survey largely of airport users indicated that most were satisfied with the existing 4,000, foot long runway. Stern wrote that Survey #2’s results were not included in aviation forecasts submitted to the FAA.

Although the committee voted in July to survey community attitudes about the airport and possible expansion before the master plan draft is written, in August, the Common Council approved a resolution to contact that survey of residents of the city and towns of Middleton and Springfield after the master plan has been drafted but before it is adopted. That survey is tentatively set for early 2020.

The resolution also stated that a series of public hearings should be held before deciding “whether to proceed with any potential airport expansion project.”

Last month, the state BOA and the Federal Aviation Administration told Mead & Hunt that its forecasted numbers for airport usage is “not strongly supported.”

“We recommend either provide a stronger story with backup data and a clear line of logic or changing your current forecast to a ‘high option’ and develop a less aggressive ‘preferred option,’” according to comments the BOA/FAA made in an Aug. 12 letter.

The agencies also told Mead & Hunt that it needs to use locally generated data, including fuel slips/sales, logbooks and surveys, to indicate actual traffic at the airport.

“A true reflection of the types and number of operations is the most important piece of a forecast for (a) non-towered airport,” the letter stated.

Despite the recommendations from the BOA/FAA, the master plan study isn’t “on the wrong track,” Opitz said last week.

“We went through the normal process of submitting forecasts to the FAA last October and it took seven months to get their comments back. There’s lots of interest in this project and the FAA is reviewing the work closely. Comments I’m seeing speak for themselves,” he said.

The FAA may be asking for local data that doesn’t exist as not every plane using the airport signs in where it can be recorded, and Mead & Hunt may need to continue looking for usage data, Opitz said.

Aviation forecasts are used to project future demand at airports and to support requests for master plans and federal grants, according to the Mead and Hunt master plan study.

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