Public Gets Say in West Bend Airport Expansion in Wis.

Oct. 10, 2006
Wednesday meeting will discuss West Bend runway expansion plan

West Bend - The Federal Aviation Administration is inviting the public to attend a Wednesday meeting to help the agency identify major issues to be considered in deciding the fate of the proposed $29 million expansion of the West Bend Municipal Airport.

City officials are seeking federal and state permission, and federal financing of 80% of the costs, to build a new mile-long runway at the existing airport and reroute a portion of state Highway 33 around it.

"Airport expansion is extremely important to the continued growth of our community," Mayor Douglas Bade said in a recent interview. "Expansion will enable the city to attract new businesses. And some of our companies in the city want a longer runway so they can use larger-size airplanes."

Among the issues an FAA consultant will study include the need for the expansion, whether there are reasonable alternatives, and the environmental effects of the expansion and any alternatives.

A minimum of 150 acres of wet meadows, marsh, floodplain forest, wooded ponds and other wetlands would be destroyed or damaged in building the project, according to a state Department of Transportation analysis released in June 2005.

At that time, the DOT agreed that a more comprehensive study, known as an environmental impact statement, was needed to fully gauge the consequences of the project.

In addition to evaluating and disclosing environmental impacts, the new study also will recommend measures for mitigating loss of wetlands in the vicinity of the airport.

Mitigation could include restoration of wetlands at a separate site.

"For the state and federal government to even consider permitting wetland impacts of this magnitude, a clear and compelling case must be made that the project is necessary, that no alternatives exist to avoid or minimize wetland impacts, and that the public benefits outweigh the ecological costs," said Erin O'Brien, policy and conservation specialist with the Wisconsin Wetlands Association in Madison.

One possible alternative would be building a new airport at another location, O'Brien said.

The organization is opposed to the proposed expansion because of the damage to wetlands at the current site.

A draft environmental impact statement on the project is scheduled to be completed by August 2007, according to Daniel Millenacker, program manager for the FAA's office in Minneapolis.

A final statement might be published in February 2008. The FAA anticipates making a final decision on the proposal by May of 2008.

Bade will ask the FAA to speed up the process, he said.

"It's taken an awfully long time to get to this first meeting," Bade said.

Wednesday's public meeting is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Clairemont Inn and Meeting Center, 2520 W. Washington St.

A court reporter will be present at the meeting to take verbal statements from people attending the meeting.

The public also can submit written comments at the meeting or mail them to the FAA no later than Nov. 13.

The mailing address:

Daniel J. Millenacker, Program Manager, Federal Aviation Administration, Minneapolis Airports District Office, 6020 28th Ave. South, Room 102, Minneapolis, MN 55450-2706.

Written comments also can be forwarded via e-mail to: .

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