Vertical hazards around Grayling Army Airfield need to be addressed
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A number of trees and other obstructions around the Grayling Army Airfield need to addressed if it is going to continue to be used by military and civilian aircraft.
The Grayling Army Airfield was built during World War II, with its primary purpose to house planes used in defense of the Soo Locks.
Over time, the Grayling community has developed around the airfield as it has continued to be used by the military and in different configurations for civilian pilots.
A routine survey to identify vertical hazards surrounding the Grayling Army Airfield was completed in 2015. The hazards restrict how military and civilian aircraft take off and land.
A total of 51 vertical hazards have been identified that are on military, public, and private property.
Instead of being regulated by only Federal Aviation Administration standards, the Grayling Army Airfield faces more stringent regulations that are mandated by the Department of Defense.
The regulations set approach patterns for aircraft and how high they can be and where they can be as they approach the airfield. The vertical hazards have to be eliminated to maintain those approach patterns.
“To have a safe glide path, these things have to be removed,” said Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo.
The vertical hazards have been divided into three priorities.
There are 19 priority-one hazards, with nine on military land, five on public property, and five on private property.
One of those hazards included trees located along the I-75 Business Loop near the Crawford County Air Terminal, which accommodates civilian aircraft. The trees are located along private and public property. The Michigan Department of Transportation, which oversees the Michigan Aeronautics Commission, has set an April 5 deadline to remove the trees or the airport could lose its license to operate.
Chris Jones, the chairman of the County Planning Commission and Airport Zoning Board of Appeals, recommended that trees should be addressed by March 31.
Jones said the remaining 18 priority-one hazards should be addressed by June 30.
Crawford County officials will work with private property owners regarding removal of the trees and will pay to have them cut down or topped.
Jones emphasized steps that have to be taken to educate the property owners about issues the airfield is facing and economic impacts that would occur if it was shut down.
“When you start cutting trees that creates some consternation,” Jones said. “In some areas it will probably depreciate property values because it will involve the substantial removal of trees.”
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Cook, the airport manager for the Grayling Army Airfield, said the length of runways that pilots are allowed to use had already cut down due to the vertical hazards. The length of the runways could be further restricted, but that would impact pilots during instrument landings where there is inclement weather.
“It makes for a very difficult landing, especially to avoid obstructions that really shouldn’t be around an airport,” Cook said.
Letters will be sent to private property owners with trees that need to be removed or topped. A surveyor will be hired to identify what trees need to be addressed.
There are 16 priority-two hazards, which include power and utility poles. Compo said that there has been some initial discussions with Consumers Energy to place power lines underground, and the same negotiations would take place with Great Lakes Energy for their utility services.
Compo said that there has been no funds budgeted to address the vertical hazards.
“The concern is going to be the cost and how much of it is the military’s responsibility and how much of it is the county’s responsibility,” Compo said.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners serves as the airport zoning board for the county. That means the board is in charge of enforcing and administering the airport zoning ordinance, which was updated on July 15, 2015.
In cases where the removal of hazards cannot be negotiated, Jones said the county could petition the Michigan Aeronautics Commission to have the hazard legally removed.
Crawford County commissioners acknowledged the social impacts and property rights of land owners, along with the economic impacts of keeping the airport open to military and civilian traffic. The airfield is expected to see more civilian traffic as economic development projects move forward in Crawford County.
“It gets down to a point of dollars and cents and keeping the airport open,” said Crawford County Commissioner Rick Anderson, who is a member on the Crawford County Airport Board.
There are 16 priority-three vertical hazards, which can be addressed by the military and officials with updates to the master plan for the airfield.
“There are some issues further out, but we think those issues can be resolved with a waiver,” Jones said.