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"Small Michigan airport sees trespassing problem"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Park Township airport trespassers a growing problem


The Holland (MI) Sentinel

Description: Airport Tress 2.jpg Description: Airport Tress 4.jpg

An airplane comes in for a landing at Park Township Airport on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.



Park Township — Brian Fredricks thought he had seen just about every kind of trespasser on Park Township Airport grounds.

Bike riders. Dog walkers. Vacationers using the property as a shortcut to bars on Ottawa Beach Road.

That was until a few weeks ago, when he glanced out to the runway to see two people fiddling with a tripod and video camera.

“They were getting ready to start dancing for a video for YouTube,” Fredricks said. “They had some old radios, like boomboxes from the 1980s.”

Fredricks told them what he tells every airport trespasser — leave, or possibly face a fine and jail time. They left.

About 15 minutes later, a plane landed on the runway.

“It touched down right where they were standing,” Fredricks said. “It was like they had no clue they could’ve been hit.”

Trespassing is a problem Fredricks has encountered more and more in the past few years.

“People don’t realize this is restricted property,” he said. “You have to have authorization to be here.”

The YouTube pair told Fredricks they could grab their tripod and get off the runway if they heard a plane coming in for landing.

Fredricks has doubts about that.

“When an airplane flies over a house, it’s making a lot of noise. When it’s coming in for a landing, it’s idle. It’s landing into wind, blowing sound away from you, not towards you. It’s basically quiet.”

Fredricks sees a trespasser at least once a day during warm-weather months, he said. Yet he’s reported just four trespassing incidents to police so far this year, records show.

“I don’t want to be calling the sheriff every time some person is on the property,” Fredricks said.

In March, deputies were called to the airport for quad bikes on the runway. On June 6, police responded for a trespassing jogger. Another person was caught flying model airplanes on the property on June 26. Four days later, another trespasser stole airplane fuel from the facility.

Many tell Fredricks they didn’t realize they were trespassing. Most are cooperative and polite when they realize their mistake, he said.

A few have refused to leave, however.

“They say, ‘I’m a taxpayer, I’m allowed to be here,’” Fredricks said. “You pay federal income taxes, too. Are you allowed to walk into any room in any office in Washington, D.C.? No.”

Police say the point of warning trespassers isn’t about being sticklers for the law.

“Safety is the concern,” Sgt. Brent Converse said. “We don’t want to have to start writing tickets to get the point across.”

Although deputies filed reports for the four trespassing incidents this year, no one has been prosecuted. Unless the property owner wants them to, police will not usually pursue criminal charges, Converse said.

Federal law states such trespassing can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

In the mean time, “No trespassing” signs are posted about every 250 feet on airport property.

The airport board looked into building a fence around the property, but discovered it could cost as much as $800,000, said Gary Miedema, former treasurer and current member of the airport board.

A fence would also hurt the aesthetic of the airport, because “we want it to look inviting,” Fredricks said.

They don’t want to discourage anyone from taking up flying, Miedema said.

“People who go into aviation do it because they got to watch planes take off outside a little airport,” Miedema said.

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