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"The "bridge-to-nowhere" that you can land your Cessna on'"



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Michigan Airport Home to No Planes or Hangars Receives Over $150K a Year in
Tax Dollars
Analyst: 'It's the "bridge-to-nowhere" that you can land your Cessna on'
By Jarrett Skorup
Michigan Capital Confidential


The town of Evart is home to fewer than 2,000 people - and an airport
pointed to as a case study in government waste.

Evart Municipal Airport has two flights per day, one runway, zero employees
and five "likes" on its Facebook page. Yet, the federal government spent
$150,000 on the airport in 2012 while state and local taxpayers spent
thousands more.

Patrick Hedger, a policy analyst at FreedomWorks, a grassroots,
limited-government group, said he thinks the program is a waste of tax
dollars.

"These ghost airports are a classic economic fallacy in yet another
disguise," Hedger said. "It's the 'bridge-to-nowhere' that you could land
your Cessna on."

So why is taxpayer money being spent on this project in a time of supposed
tight budgets? Because of one bill from over a decade ago and government's
inability to end bad programs.

There are five airports within 30 nautical miles (about 34 road miles) of
the city. Evart is the only airport in Osceola County in the National Plan
of Integrated Airport Systems, a group of approximately 3,400 airports
nationwide that are said to be "significant to national air transportation"
and funded by the federal government.

In Evart, a small town in the north central part of the state off U.S.
Highway 10, this essentially means building on to the airport to justify
continually receiving the funds.

According to the latest capital improvement program submitted to the state,
Evart Municipal Airport has no hangars, no fueling, no aircraft based there
and an issue with deer entering the runway. Over the next five years, the
airport has requested $1,072,884 in federal entitlements, $93,936 in federal
apportionment, $89,553 from the state, and $534,678 from the local
government. The nearly $1.7 million requested is more than the $1.6 million
the airport has received from those sources since 2000.

The plan calls for funding of basic maintenance; but also new lighting,
wildlife fencing, hangars, fuel facilities and the equipment to connect it
all. It also provides a reason to continue the funding from federal, state
and local sources.

Jeff Cranson, director of communications for the Michigan Department of
Transportation, said the city of Evart justified all of its projects for the
program, which generally are granted to support local businesses.

"The airport's capital improvement plan reflects the city's priorities to
develop and maintain the airport," Cranson said. "The projects contained
within the plan are eligible under the federal program, and are funded when
justified and according to overall program priorities."

An article in The Washington Post documented 88 airports around the country
that attract "federal money, but few planes." These municipal airports are
spread out enough to give them a "strong base in Congress" despite repeated
attempts to kill the program that funds them. From The Post:

[A] bill Congress passed in 2000 created a new "entitlement" program for
small airports. The rules: If a field was on the FAA's official airports
list, and if it had sufficient need for infrastructure improvements, there
would be money. Up to $150,000, every year.

The money was paid out of a "trust fund" filled by taxes on airline tickets
and airplane fuel.

President George W. Bush, more than once, proposed budget cuts that would
have ended the program. In 2011, [Oklahoma Senator Tom] Coburn suggested
making states share more of the costs. Instead, last February, Congress kept
the program in place when it reauthorized the FAA.

According to The Post, Evart is the only airport in Michigan that draws this
amount of federal funding with no paying customers and no planes located on
site.

Zac Szakacs is the Evart city manager and he oversees the airport. He said
it was originally used for businesses around the area.

"We have a 3,800 foot runway that was built to handle cargo," Szakacs said.
"The original intent was speedy delivery of parts and supplies to the
manufacturers. Due to economic changes, the city of Evart has been able to
shift the original intentions of the EMA to include recreational use."

Szakacs said the airport has no employees, but is patrolled by law
enforcement and has a terminal that is accessed by pilots through a
combination lock. His capital improvement program requests, among other
things, funding for T-Hangars, which he said he thinks would bring aircraft
that would be based at the airport and result in a revenue stream for the
facility.

Szakacs said the city will continue operating the airport as long as it
receives the funding.

"If and when it becomes problematic, the city will be forced to revisit the
benefits of the airport development," he said.  

Hedger, however, said he hopes the program's end will come soon.

"The problem is that when the government gets into the market of
infrastructure development, we begin to see tax dollars wasted on all the
little projects that 'could' be built rather than those that 'need' to be
built," he said.

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