MAGN Group Wants Questions Answered

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Kevin Murphy

Editor’s Note: The following story is the second 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. The records requested last month have not yet been released by the City of Middleton.

MIDDLETON–While some City of Middleton officials say they haven’t committed to a longer runway at Middleton Municipal-Morey Field, expansion opponents wonder if the master plan is currently being developed in order to pave the way for it.

In a January 2019 email from Mark Opitz, city planning and zoning administrator, to Greg Stern, of Mead & Hunt, which is drafting the master plan, Opitz wrote, “As I understand the scope of your services, the outcome of the master plan is to justify the improvements to the airport.”

That email and about 50,000 others were obtain in an Open Records request by leaders of Middleton Area Good Neighbors (MAGN), a residents’ group formed this year to support maintaining the airport, but not expanding it.

“We’ve been told all along that there’s no preconceived outcome to this master plan, that the (city) is just fact finding, but that email says different,” Leslie Hayner, of MAGN said.

The airport’s current master plan hasn’t been updated since the city bought the 252-acre property from the Morey family. An Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which is but one chapter in a master plan, has been updated as the runways were reconfigured and hangers added, however, the ALP hasn’t been formally signed. 

An ALP consists of drawings of intermediate and long-term airport facilities plus runway details, approach and departure profiles, airspace protection areas, land-use information and airport property maps, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

A master plan has many more chapters including aviation activity forecasts, alternatives analysis, financial feasibility of funding the projects and a plan to guide the implementation of the master plan’s findings and recommendations.

Work began on a master plan and an ALP by Mead & Hunt in December 2017, according to an email Opitz sent at the time. Opitz was responding to a request about building a hanger on land northeast of the airport and wrote that the master plan and ALP would have to be completed before any federally funded land acquisition could occur. 

The ALP for the city’s airport has been updated.

Mead & Hunt’s $250,000 contract with the state Bureau of Aeronautics (BOA) and the city, of which the BOA funds $200,000, didn’t include an economic impact study or an environmental study of the airport.

However, in the January 2019 email, Opitz, perhaps realizing the master plan could be improved if the airport’s 2008 economic impact study is updated, wrote Greg Stern, of Mead & Hunt, that he would ask the BOA to do it.

Josh Holbrook, of the BOA, later agreed to have the study conducted. That plan is being drafted and Opitz expects it to be completed by December.

The BOA advised the city to redo its master plan because it has improvements under study and it should have overall plan for them, Opitz stated in an email response Tuesday. However, a master plan doesn’t get the projects built.

“Completing a master plan does not automatically mean that the City will undertake any of the projects it identifies. There will need to be separate decisions made to further study and fund individual projects,” Opitz wrote.

Still, Hayner believes Opitz’s words don’t match his actions.

“We know Opitz isn’t neutral on airport expansion, he’s running around town supporting it, and we have an email with him saying an economic impact study would support expansion,” Hayner said. 

Airport Commission Chair John Hallick also seemed to think Opitz was overstepping his role as city liaison to the commission. On July 7, Hallick emailed City Administrator Mike Davis that he had heard that Opitz “was working the crowd today at the pancake breakfast.

“The commission can’t communicate due to open meetings laws but Mark, a member of the city can stir things up by talking to everyone? Isn’t that a little unfair? Can you control Mark? Should you consider taking Mark off the airport commissions (sic) and meetings and replaced by someone else? Is this a task for the Mayor?”

Davis emailed Opitz on July 8 that he was “concerned about John’s comments”

“Are you advocating for a particular policy position? John noted in another email how the perception of you is a very close advocacy on behalf of Capital Flight. I think you need to be careful not to cross the line from being staff to policy maker unless the City has an already established position,” Davis wrote.

In a July 8 email, Opitz asked to meet with Davis and Hallick as Hallick’s “animus toward me is perplexing and getting ridiculous.”

Opitz continued, that in addition to taking photos and video of the pancake breakfast, he answered questions about the master plan process as he always does, “we are studying three potential projects but have not made any decisions.”

The three projects are; extending the main runway to the west; paving the north-south runway; and building hangers north east of the airport. Each project would require land acquisition.

Hallick said Tuesday that he couldn’t remember emailing Davis about removing Opitz nor subsequently meeting with Davis and Opitz about the subject.

Opitz wrote Tuesday that he met with Hallick and Davis in July and he and Hallick “continue to have a productive working relationship and are able to sort through matters when we disagree.”

Capital Flight and Morey Airplane Co. are the two businesses based at the airport. 

Matt Hofeldt is president of Capital Flight, a flight school and airplane brokerage.

 

In a separate July 7 email, largely about enforcing minimum standards at the airport, Hallick closed stating, “(T)his was another example of how Mark Opitz appears to be working on Matt’s (Hofeldt’s) behalf. It’s a point of discussion between literally everyone at airport. It makes both him and the City look bad.”

Hofeldt, has presented plans for a larger terminal but the airport commission hasn’t approved it.

Hofeldt was appointed to the airport commission but has been replaced by his wife, Jade Hofeldt.

Last month, the MAGN group also sought receipts from the city for Optiz’s travel with the Hofeldts on airport-related trips and earlier this week were waiting for a response.

The city contracts with Morey Airplane Co. to manage the airport. Rich Morey, of Morey Airplane Co., is also the airport manager. He has said the current 4,000 foot paved runway is adequate for existing aviation needs.

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