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"Wisconsin airport area residents strongly opposed to overlay district"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Airport area residents strongly opposed to overlay district
By Rick Olivo 
The Ashland (WI) Daily Press

Over 100 Ashland and Bayfield county residents from the towns of Eileen and
Gingles packed the large meeting room at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical
College-Ashland to offer their opinions at an airport commission hearing
concerning a proposed overlay district for the John F. Kennedy Memorial

That district would codify regulations that are intended to address safety
issues around the airport, something most speakers at the hearing agreed was
a good purpose. But with virtually one voice, speakers protested that the
overlay district would rob them of their property rights, was unnecessary to
safety and represented usurpation of local government.

The hearing began with an overview of the proposed overlay ordinance by JFK
Memorial Airport Manager John Sill.

Sill said the overlay was being considered at the request of the Wisconsin
Bureau of Aeronautics and the Federal Aviation Administration. He said the
ordinance is intended to prevent the development of safety issues caused by
development around the airport. Sill noted that across the United States
many airports were being forced to close because of what he called
development creep.

The zoning overlay was intended to protect public safety as well as public
investment in the airport, and noted that in order to get state and federal
grant funds for the airport, local authorities had to ensure safety measures
were in place around the airport.

The overlay district would establish a number of zones, including a landing
approach area, a transitional surface area around the runways, and a conical
circle that rings the other two zones. Each area would be subject to its own
level of development restrictions, which would be increasingly strict the
closer to the runway they were.

Those restrictions were at the heart of the protests by area residents.

"What's wrong with the way it is now?" questioned resident Aaron Zifko. "If
you are going to impose all these rules then I don't want to have anything
to do with it. Don't penalize people who own land inside these circles."

Tom Marincel stated that he had bought his property "to have a little

"I don't want to have another layer of government interfering with us."

David O'Donahue said he also moved to the country to get out of the city. He
said he was not opposed to the airport but wondered why the rings
restricting property development had to be so large.

"Property rights are fundamental to this country, and I am strongly opposed
to the City of Ashland having any authority over my property," he said.

Rick Korpela, chairman of the Town of Agenda, asserted that the overlay was
not required by federal or state officials and charged that it was only
being pushed by airport commissioners.

There were those who spoke in favor of the overlay. Bryan Custer of Northern
Clearing noted that his firm used the airport on a regular basis, and said
it was a "huge benefit" to business, and was, in fact, critical to his
firm's ability to maintain its level of operations.

David Vedder of Bretting Manufacturing also said he was "very thankful" for
the airport, noting that his company made some 80 flights a year out of the

"It is an important part of our business," he said.

One area resident who spoke in favor of the overlay was Jim Thompson, who
said opposition to the overlay was "overblown" and challenged the audience
to say how those regulations would harm them.

Terry Torkko, chairman of the Town of Eileen, said the overlay had been
worked on by airport commissioners in concert with the town officials. He
said working on the document was a matter of practicality.

"They can pass it with or without us. I thought it was important to be a
part of the process."

Torkko said the rules did very little but to codify regulations that already
existed, and asserted that airport safety was an important matter.

Other speakers noted that the airport had operated safely for over 50 years
without the overlay, and challenged the need for such drastic measures.
Another asserted that increased restrictions on their property would lower
its value.

The document and the public comment will be discussed at a meeting of the
airport commission today, but Sill said no immediate action would be taken
on it. The overlay can only take effect after both the Ashland City Council
and the Ashland and Bayfield county boards approve it.

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