Thriving Airport is Crucial to Milwaukee Economy: Is Mitchell on Course?

A public brawl has erupted over control of Wisconsin's busiest airfield: Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.

One reason for the county's opposition to Stone's proposal is that giving up control of the airport would worsen the county's finances, said county budget administrator Stephen Agostini.

Poisoning the atmosphere further is the MMAC's distrust about whether the county will authorize construction of an additional runway - a decision that appears inevitable under airport growth projections but that would mean demolition of a residential neighborhood.

"I won't commit myself to a decision until I have to make a decision," county Supervisor Richard Nyklewicz said when asked if he would support a new runway. Nyklewicz, whose district includes the airport, has led the opposition to Stone's legislation.

Stone has shelved the bill for now and said he will start over with it next year.

Meanwhile, Midwest's support for a change of stewardship has erupted as a flashpoint of conflict between county politicians and business leaders.

County Board Chairman Lee Holloway fired off an angry rebuke to Midwest Airlines CEO Tim Hoeksema and in effect attacked the airline's integrity, writing that "Midwest Airlines is not registered as a principal with the Wisconsin Ethics Board." Such a move would be necessary if Midwest itself formally lobbied the Legislature.

The MMAC has argued for months that it backed the legislation; Midwest is a member of the MMAC, which is a registered lobbying group. But in his April 3 letter, Holloway vowed to "continue my efforts to determine whether Midwest Airlines - with no regard for the constituents represented by County Board supervisors - initiated legislation creating a regional airport authority."

Holloway's accusations "can only serve to harm business-government relations and cause corporate decision makers to question their continued operations here," according to Joseph Rice, a County Board supervisor.

In a letter to Holloway, Rice wrote, "At a time when enormous policy issues are facing Milwaukee County, such a letter is counterproductive to the promotion of our economic vitality."

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