Concerns about a proposed wind farm’s impact on Mt. Pleasant Airport will be communicated to the Federal Aviation Administration after city commissioners approved the correspondence on Monday.
Apex Clean Energy is planning a wind farm in six townships in Isabella County, with groundwork expected to begin this summer and the turbines themselves being put up in 2020.
As part of the process, the FAA is seeking input from airports near the turbines. This is standard procedure if the turbines are over 500 feet; the Isabella County ones have a proposed total tip height of about 600 feet.
After FAA completes its review, MDOT Aeronautics is required to review the request.
Chief among the city’s concerns is the fact the tall turbines might require planes to have a steeper approach to the airport, which could require a longer runway than is available. That in turn could mean fewer jets or corporate planes would be able to use the airport.
Scott Hawken, director of project development for Apex, was at the meeting. Commissioner Petro Tolas asked why the taller turbines are needed, and Hawken said that advanced technology is resulting in the larger turbines to get the most energy.
He also said that Apex is willing to work with the city, county and the FAA to address any concerns.
The Isabella County Planning Commission approved a special use permit for the project in late January, with several conditions. The county Planning Commission must review the placement of individual turbines during the site plan review process to verify they meet county standards and FAA approval is one factor in that review.
The city’s letter to the FAA will be signed by City Manager Nancy Ridley and airport Manager Bill Brickner.
Ridley said they believe the city’s best option is to present their concerns and then let the experts at the FAA and MDOT Aeronautics work out the specifics with Apex.
The letter states:
“This communication is to provide written comments from the City of Mt. Pleasant for the aeronautical study for the above proposed project. We are very interested in the potential impacts to the airport because the City of Mt. Pleasant Airport is an economic driver for the Isabella County community resulting in approximately $8 million a year impact to the local economy according to the last MOOT study.
“The Mt. Pleasant Airport is also a gateway to the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, Central Michigan University and several business and recreational destinations.
“While the city is supportive of alternative energy, we are concerned that constructing wind turbines that may protrude into the current airspace of the\airport could result in:
“• Some planes may no longer be able to use our airport due to potentially steeper slope approaches.
“• An interference with some planes’ ability to utilize our airport navigation.
“• Potential deflection of the variable Omni range·-signal, which could result in approach issues.
”We would request that the proximity and height of the structures be designed in such a way to mitigate any impacts that could have a negative effect on airport operations.”
City Commissioner Kathy Ling asked if the city’s letter would be a mere formality or if the FAA was likely to take the concerns seriously.
“I guess what I’m asking is, does the fact that we fact that we have concerns about this, and it obviously would have a very significant impact, influence the decision that is made. I am sympathetic to what the representative from Apex is telling us. I think they are sincere that they would like to work with the city to work this out. I am just trying to figure out what kind of a position we are in at this point.”
Ridley replied that it is her understanding that the FAA and MDOT would use the input to help find a solution.
“It’s our belief from our conversations with the staff at MDOT that our comments do have an impact on that, and they won’t just say, “Ok, thank you, we understand.’ They will try to mitigate that. And they also have to look at the Tall Structures Act and make sure they can permit based on (that law).”
The letter was one of two topics related to the airport at Monday’s meeting.
In the other issue, commissioners unanimously approved hiring a second part-time position for the airport at a cost of about $15,000 per year.
To pay for the position, the city and the Airport Advisory Board will review current fees at the airport, which will be increased. Fuel sales also will cover the cost, and if necessary, money would come from the general fund, Ridley said.
Ridley told commissioners the position is needed because the airport is experiencing a significant increase in the number of flights that occur outside of normal daytime business operations.
“Our plan for sustainability of the airport is primarily based on fuel sales, and in order to generate those fuel sales, we have focused our primary mission to be on customer service, particularly for jet and corporate traffic, so that we can get repeat business coming here, based on our service levels. I think we’ve had success with that.”
The airport currently has a full-time manager and one part-time employee.
Ridley said that in 2016, there were calls for afterhours service for 27 flights. There were 42 in 2017 and 100 in 2018.
In the first two months of this year, there were 28 call-outs for afterhours service.
“The challenge it creates is at the staffing level,” she said.
In addition, the current part-time employee will be leaving this spring to move to another area. The city hopes to recruit both part-time employees at the same time.
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