MAGN Asks: What’s Going On?

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By: 
Kevin Murphy
The Middleton Municipal Airport expansion has been controversial among neighbors of the facility. A group of area residents has banded together to express concerns about the project.

Editor’s Note: The following story is the first in a two part series regarding the formation of an opposition group to the possible expansion of the Middleton Municipal Airport. The group has filed two open records requests, the first in June and a second in September. 

MIDDLETON–“What’s going on?” was how an opponent of airport expansion characterized why she became involved in the Middleton Area Good Neighbors.

Area residents concerned about the possibility of Middleton’s airport becoming too noisy and busy to live close to formed MAGN this summer as the city began developing its first airport master plan.

Pam Krill, an attorney with Godfrey and Kahn, S.C., which represents the approximate 250 MAGN members, said the group has two goals.

“One is to bring transparency to the process. There seems to be a lot of behind-the-scenes things going on, which I understand, that’s how government is, there’s a lot of people involved who have a lot of opinions. So, let’s be above the board, let’s be honest about what we’re trying to do, let’s not disadvantage some and give advantages to others.

“Goal number two is advocate the extent they can to maintaining this airport in good operating condition; upgrading as needed so it remains safe for people to (use); but they don’t want the footprint of the airport to be expanded,” Krill said.

Expanding the airport would create a host of environmental problems including; air pollution created by the leaded aviation fuels; noise impacting nearby residential properties and the impact on Pheasant Branch Creek watershed, she said.

Krill initially assisted MAGN leaders, Leslie Hayner and Kyle Larson, in submitting an open records request for airport-related communications between city officials, and Mead & Hunt which received a $250,000 contract from the state Bureau of Aeronautics and the city to develop the master plan. 

The city responded to the request this summer with 50,000 emails and other pertinent documents. 

Hayner said she spent at least 50 hours reading through materials and took issue with some of what she found.

Hayner questioned why Mark Opitz, city planner and zoning administrator, forwards emails on a variety of airport issues to Matt Hofeldt, of Capital Flight, a flight school and airplane broker, based at the airport. Richard Morey, the airport manager and fixed-based operator wasn’t included on many of the emails, and Hofeldt didn’t respond to most of the emails, Hayner said.

Opitz responded Monday by email to the Times-Tribunethat city staff commonly shares public emails with businesses or neighborhood associations when the subject affects them. 

“I send and receive a lot of airport-related emails, and even though Capital Flight is one of two businesses based at the airport, I do not copy Mr. Hofeldt on even a majority of those emails,” Opitz wrote Monday.

Opitz forwarded a Sept. 25 email from City Administrator Mike Davis to Hayner and Krill that stated Opitz forwards emails to Hofeldt to learn more from him about commercial operations that Capital Flight is interested in seeing at the airport. 

Davis also wrote that he didn’t believe Opitz intended to slight Morey by not forwarding him emails he has sent to Hofeldt but Opitz apologized to Morey for not doing so.

Hayner developed a community survey on airport issues in May that within six days produced 290 qualified responses. More than 75 percent said a referendum should be held on airport expansion with and equal percentage saying they would vote against it. About 75 percent also said they would vote in future elections for candidates who oppose expansion.

The number of Hayner’s respondents far exceeded the combined responses to two surveys Mead & Hunt conducted. The latter was a regional survey of potential users in surrounding states including those suggested by Hofeldt’s wife, Jade, and their family members. It favored runway expansion.

“Half (of the respondents) were friends on a Facebook page that Matt Hofeldt created the day he got hold of (Hayner’s) citizen survey,” Krill said.

In September, Mead & Hunt recommended that second survey data not be used in the master plan because of “community concerns.”

“Mead & Hunt put out a memo saying the second survey won’t be used but that doesn’t come close to answering why it won’t. They’re just biting their tongues over it and I’m in a position to let people know about it,” Hayner said.

The common council supports conducting a community survey after a draft master plan has been written.

Airport officials repeatedly remind residents disturbed by loud and low aircraft at MMA that the Federal Aviation Administration and not local authorities, exercises control over aircraft once they are airborne. Kirill says that lack of local control is another reason against expanding the airport. 

Airport expansion would be funded by federal dollars which then “would tie our hands, but for what?” Krill said.

Middleton represents a community of good schools, parks and good neighborhoods, “Have you ever heard of anyone moving to Middleton because of the airport?” she asked.

The airport is already the state’s eighth-busiest for general aviation but unlike its counterparts, there are homes nearby and the area has become more densely developed since the city acquired Morey Airport in 1998.

Hayner takes issue with the claim that the airport needs to expand in order to survive which she speculates is a justification used to bring in corporate and freight aircraft. Those planes could generate more revenue from hanger leases than the hobby pilots pay.

Krill, a long-time city resident, now lives about 3.5 miles from the airport and has airplanes frequently flying low overhead. Hayner lives within four miles of the airport and owns property under a flight path on she would like to build a house.

“This is a facility that’s accessible to a few, potentially hazardous to surrounding schools and homes. What’s the sense of that,” Hayner said.

That returns Krill to her main point, “What is going on here?”

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