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Letter to City and County Board of Commissioners RE: Airport Tree Cutting

Dear City (County) Commissioners,

Based on my experience when I was a JAG attorney for the US Air Force, when the government gives orders and makes decisions, it does so in writing, and it makes a record of its decision-making. I expect the FAA, Airport Commission, and City make decisions the same way.

The record supporting the Airport’s decision to clear 40-acres, and exempt it from zoning, is slim.

When the Airport and FAA decided to cut trees west of Cherry Capital Airport in 2018, those decisions were made in writing.

When the FAA decided 63.4 acres east of the terminal (including the 20 acres where Costco sits) could be used for commercial/industrial development rather than aeronautical uses, it made a record.

If the land clearing responds to bird or wildlife hazards, there should be a record. The FAA requires a Wildlife Hazard Assessment to describe the hazard, and a Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Plan to fix it. Neither has been provided publicly. The FAA requires airports to report safety incidents and keeps a national database of all reported wildlife strikes through December 31, 2018. Nothing in the database suggests the forest was a hazard.

There has been reference to a bird strike that destroyed a plane: the National Transportation Safety Board report shows that, in May 2014, a loon went through a windshield and hit a pilot in a passenger plane during its approach 10 miles out from Cherry Capital Airport. Neither the database nor the loon accident support the decision to clear 40-acres.

There should be a specific record from the Airport/FAA about what wildlife is being mitigated by clearing 40 acres. There should also a City record that this land clearing is exempt from zoning because the Michigan Airport Zoning Act requires local zoning exemptions for airports to be based on documentation on file with the City.

Besides responding to wildlife, there has been reference to the land clearing to remove navigation obstacles. At the April 3 GT County Commission meeting, it was stated that the FAA wanted 58 obstacles mitigated (at 1:00:50). According to Airport Director Klein (starting at 3:39:25), when the Airport removes navigation obstacles, it follows the filed Airport Layout Plan, which is attached. The ALP Obstruction Table pinpoints 58 obstacles (p14). Around the 40-acre clearing, there are 2 pinpointed obstacles (Nos. 38, 40) on the far north end of the cleared area, with a recommendation for trimming (see 3 images, attached). The one (No. 38) appears close to the neighborhood east of the cutting. This Table does not support clearing thousands of trees as far as 2,000 feet away, across 40 acres.

The 40-acres around the airport that were cleared in March are available for lease. At the same time, it is well known that the City is considering adopting a tree ordinance under zoning. Per Michigan caselaw, a lessee of Airport property (like Costco) would be subject to City zoning. Collectively, these circumstances could provide an incentive for preemptive land clearing.

In my experience defending government decisions impacting the environment, I would expect a written record of decision-making. The FAA and the Airport should have records showing that the land was cleared in order to address identified hazards to public safety. Providing that documentation would put to rest any notion that the land clearing might have been an attempt to preempt local zoning.

Showing the record also ensures there was reasonable decision-making that lead to the decision to clear the land and to exempt it from zoning. The record would also provide understanding about what may happen in the future. Is a pinpoint on the Obstruction Table a license to clear 40 acres? Are all trees near the airport a hazard? If wildlife hazards that are not in the Airport Layout Plan are exempt from zoning, how does the City (and public) know what they are, and what will be done about them?

Please request the documentation from the Airport and make those documents available to the public.

Thank you,

Tracy Jane (TJ) Andrews

Attachments: Airport Layout Plans; Map - Reduced; 3 images

Blog Editor Note - Was unable to post Airport Layout Plans and Map

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