Expansion plan drawing critics of noise at Middleton airport

Aug. 23--MIDDLETON -- Two years after an expansion at the city 's airport that included a longer runway, a new terminal building and new hangars, officials are talking about another expansion, a prospect that has neighbors worried.

Officials are proposing to pave the airport 's grass runway and build more hangars. They say a second paved runway actually would decrease the number of planes that fly over homes.

But some neighbors aren 't convinced the proposal is a good idea.

"I 'm not in favor of expansion of any kind, " said Steve Zeigler, who has lived about a half-mile west of the airport for 24 years. He cited the noise, the environmental impact and what he calls an unwise use of taxpayer money.

Flights begin sometimes at 5 or 6 a.m. and may continue until late at night, Zeigler said. "Those are very distressing and they are very low. " The noise can be "significant " and can include turbo prop planes and jets.

But Howard Teal, a city council member and head of the Airport Commission, said the expansion would direct more planes away from residential areas, alleviating noise complaints.

Plans call for paving the turf runway, which runs north-south, and lengthening it from 2,000 feet to up to 2,700 feet -- and eventually possibly 4,100 feet. That would send more planes to the north, which is mostly agricultural.

The existing paved 4,000-foot runway runs east-west, which sends many planes over the more heavily populated areas to the west of the airport.

The expansion also calls for building more hangars, buying


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land or securing easements near the airport and installing navigation lights to the west of the airport. The plans would not accommodate larger aircraft than those that already use the airport, said Mark Opitz, the city 's assistant planning director.

Still, there is skepticism, said Richard Oberle, a board member in the town of Middleton, just west of the airport.

"There seems to be a real trust issue with the community and the airport, " Oberle said.

He said about a decade ago officials promised that jets would not use the airport, although some do. And Zeigler said he believes officials said in 1999 that they would not seek to expand the airport again after they won a referendum to improve the facility then.

Busier than average '

Richard Morey, who manages the airport, said some of these notions are "absolutely silly and a misunderstanding of what is going on. "

He said small jets have occasionally used the airport since it opened in 1942. Two such jets are based at the airport now out the roughly 60 planes that call it home, he said. Other small aircraft, however, can fly in any time. Commercial passenger aircraft don 't use the airport.

Morey, who is the grandson of the airport 's founder, said airport use can vary. On weekends it 's not uncommon for there to be "a landing every five minutes. " On weekdays or when the weather is bad, flights can drop off markedly.

Much of the use comes from the flight school at the airport, Morey said, and from hobbyist aviators. A "fair number " of aircraft come in and out for business, he said.

Mark Arnold, airport engineering chief with the state Bureau of Aeronautics, which oversees airports, said the Middleton airport is "probably busier than average, one of the busier ones, actually. "

Morey said the airport has asked pilots to reduce the noise over homes by not flying low over them. But some pilots forget to do so, he said, and at other times they may have little choice. That 's because small aircraft fly best when they take off into the wind, and the prevailing wind is from the northwest. As a result, neighbors to the west hear planes, he said.

He said there is "99 percent compliance " with the noise-abatement procedures, but the airport can 't discipline pilots who don 't follow them.

"We 've tried everything we can possibly think of " to reduce noise, Teal said.

Need for more hangars

While a recent hearing on the expansion plans drew more than three dozen area residents, Arnold said the types of projects envisioned are "generally appropriate. "

The airport 's 39 hangars have a waiting list, Opitz said. And the airport 's operating revenue comes from usage fees and hangar leases, not general taxes. The current hangars have fixed leases, yet the airport 's costs continue to rise.

"Of course if you provide more hangars you increase traffic there to some degree, " Arnold said.

Officials also want to buy nearby land or secure easements in an effort to reduce complaints from neighbors, Morey said.

Arnold said the Middleton airport and nearby Dane County Regional Airport in Madison have "very different uses and needs. The overlap between the two uses they serve is pretty small. There isn 't anything that Middleton is proposing that would create any sort of impact on the Dane County airport, I believe. "

Sharyn Wisniewski, marketing and communications manager at the Dane County airport, declined to comment on the proposed expansion, saying only that officials there see growth at the Middleton airport as "a local issue. "

Door is open

There 's no time line for completing the expansion, which Morey said is "an open-ended wish list. "

But Teal said he expects the plan to be adopted. "We have to increase revenues so my expectation is we would move forward with the additional hangar space, " he said. "To alleviate the noise, one way to do that is the additional runway and I expect we 'll move forward with that. "

Ninety-five percent of the cost of the plan would come from aviation user fees, with 2.5 percent from the state and 2.5 percent from Middleton, Opitz said.

For his part, Morey said he encourages residents to continue to report noise problems and to "come in and listen to what we 're doing. "

"The door is open any time people want to come in, " he said. "I 'm more than happy to try to get the word out. "

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