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Thursday, May 5, 2016

City seeks cooperation in protecting airport air space

Monday, June 14, 2010

The air space around the Monett Municipal Airport is only protected by city laws at a distance of one mile, shown in yellow circles on the maps above. Scott Michie, above, with the engineering firm of Bucher, Willis and Ratliff, asked county officials last week to help in an informational campaign on the value of protecting the airport from obstructions such as broadcasting towers in the future. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Commissioners from both Barry and Lawrence counties gathered with Monett city leaders last week to discuss ways to protect the air space around the Monett Municipal Airport. The meeting, held at the Justice Center, was part of the ongoing implementation of the new master plan for the airport.

Construction of cellular phone broadcast towers and wind generators could occur without regulation, explained Scott Michie, principal senior vice president of community planning with Bucher, Willis and Ratliff (BWR), the engineering firm used by the city for airport work. Neither Barry nor Lawrence counties have zoning or permitting authority beyond wastewater requirements.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has no authority to restrict tower construction, Michie said. Outside of the authority of local governments, any property owner with a hazard also accepts all liabilities and cannot get insurance. Such issues may not come up until after construction starts. At that point, discussions become more difficult.

"We're talking about things to protect yours and our long-term interests," Michie said.

Mayor Jim Orr said the Monett City Council was not expecting the county to implement a tower permit process. The city hoped to work with the counties to launch an informational campaign to alert property owners to concerns about heights and hazards for the airport and get voluntary cooperation over future construction.

"This is a city-county air space protection program," Michie said. "This is a process, a mechanism for dealing with change."

The city has some authority to regulate air space close to the airport, Michie explained. The city's nuisance ordinance can be imposed over air space extending out one mile from city property like the airport and city limits to the east. Pierce City, which has zoning, would have similar authority to establish height and hazard regulations over its land north of the airport.

Greater concern was voiced for a cone-shaped zone south of the airport extending 10 miles to Wheaton. Global positioning had vastly improved the potential for instrument landings, Michie said. However, in bad weather, a clear extended zone needs to be maintained for long low approaches. A southern approach, due to prevailing southwest winds, becomes preferable under such conditions.

The Monett airport does not now have the highly technical equipment to guide planes in for a full instrument landing. However, protecting the instrument landing approach becomes a long-term priority.

Anything over 150 feet higher than the runway qualifies as a potential hazard, but not all towers are necessarily a problem, Michie said. City Administrator Dennis Pyle recalled recent plans to build a 270-foot tower near the airport. After the owner contacted BWR, a compromise height of 240 feet was agreed upon that would serve the owner and avoid issues. Michie cited a similar situation in the city of Cameron, where BWR handled airport engineering.

Michie said air space works on a 50-to-1 ratio based on proximity to the airport itself, accommodating for the rising and descent of planes. Around Wheaton a 300-foot tower would be manageable, whereas such a tower would be problematic closer to the airport. A tower outside of the airport approach lane may not matter to the Monett operation.

Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren recounted discussions held between the FAA and the Cassville airport with the Wind Capital Group, which had plans to build a wind farm in the Exeter area. The FAA had problems with the position of one proposed tower.

If the wind farm went forward with construction, the airport would be unaffected for daytime traffic. However, the location of one tower would mean night flights would have to be diverted to Monett. Warren said agreement on the towers was reached, but the future of the wind farm is still unknown.

"We're trying to protect the economic value of the airport," commented Airport Superintendent Howard Frazier. "A lot of corporate contacts from all over the United States fly to Monett."

The airport has become a mutual investment between the city and the FAA and the Missouri Department of Transportation, Michie said. The counties have a vested interest in protecting the economic viability of businesses relying on the airport.

Orr explained the city's plans to build a new 6,100-foot runway west of the current runway when federal funding is available. This city will be seeking to acquire 346 additional acres from about 12 properties in the process.

An open house will be held later in the fall at the open to explain expansion plans. The city plans to invite property owners to the session.

County officials raised no objections to the city's plans. Lawrence County Commissioner Joe Ruscha suggested concrete examples of how a cooperative effort can still reach mutual goals.

Michie said the city would like the counties to agree on definitions and guidelines from the FAA, suggesting a process for what to do when construction issues arise. Questions can be directed locally to Pyle at 235-3355.

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