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New Weather Reporting System Coming To Ontonagon County Airport
By VANESSA DIETZ ONTONAGON — Traffic at the Onton-
agon County Airport will likely increase, once a new weather reporting system is installed.
Hearing from more than a dozen people on the topic Tuesday, the County Board approved Airport Manager Margo Anderson’s request to install an Automated Weather Observing Sys- tem-3 (AWOS-3).
Anderson said the AWOS-3 will cost $191,184, $165,000 of which would be covered by an annual federal grant. The local match of $26,184 will be covered by the $32,000 Carl Thornton fund.
In addition, the county will have to come up with $6,000 to $8,000 per year in maintenance costs.
A parade of pilots, local business representa- tives and Ontonagon village officials informed the board the upgrade is an investment in infra- structure that will spur economic growth and save lives.
“Many of us look at this as an economic devel- opment tool,” said Ontonagon resident Alan Ralph, a member of the county Economic Development Authority and the village’s Downtown Development Authority. “We believe there’s an adequate amount of funding in the county. This isn’t about divide and con- quer. We’ve suffered some real setbacks here. We need to unite on this. We’re all in this together.”
Rich Ernest, from the Ontonagon County
Chamber of Commerce, said without AWOS, people interested in investing in Ontonagon have to land elsewhere.
“They get to see the Keweenaw first,” Ernest said, adding that alone could mean a lost invest- ment in the county. “I think we could be missing the boat ... to get this thing turned around. Growth is coming.”
Dave Anderson, director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for Aquila Resources and Margo’s husband, said AWOS would mean a lot to his business.
“I need airport access,” Dave Anderson said, noting potential investors will spend less time traveling. “That access is critical. That helps me do business. That’s how we get a mine built.”
Anderson also pointed out if mine workers were injured, AWOS would help ensure they get the care needed as soon as possible.
“I don’t want to explain why we can’t get that person to Wausau for treatment,” Dave Ander- son said.
Trent Tell, the lead pilot for Valley Med Flight of Iron Mountain, spoke of the critical need for increased access, and said he has had to abort landings or departures due to uncertain weath- er.
The weather system will allow pilots access to detailed weather conditions at the airport, which now has to be approached using a visual flight plan.
“We have to come in from either Iron Moun- tain or Houghton,” Tell said. “Without that sys-
tem we are basically guessing.”
Ontonagon Village Council President Ken
Waldrop and trustees Tony Smydra and Don Chastan all supported the airport upgrade, in addition to pilots Hans Lagerloef, Norm Radke and Dan Sullivan and business owners Norman Pestka and Scott Roehm.
Matt Zika, from the National Weather Service in Marquette, said AWOS would help with local forecasts.
“It’ll give us nonstop reporting,” he said.
Paula Domitrovich, a 21-year county employ- ee, was the lone speaker against the upgrade. She said she’d never seen “so much pressure” on the board to make such a large expenditure, and that courthouse safety would make a better invest- ment.
“I hope you see employee safety as a necessity,” said Domitrovich, the county juvenile officer.
“I can support both aspects,” said Commis-
sioner Gray Webber. “I think we have the avail- ability of funding to do both. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s $5,000 to $8,000 in maintenance. It’s not going to break the bank.”
Commissioner Richard Bourdeau was the only commissioner to vote against the purchase. Once installed, anyone will be able to access detailed weather information for Ontonagon, including the marine forecast, via telephone, the
internet or a certain radio frequency. Emergency Director Mike Kocher and Sheriff Dale Rantala provided alternatives to the airport weather reporting system, such as installing sev- eral Michigan Department of Transportation live cameras in the county that could be accessed
While generally useful in determining current
conditions, that alternative lacks approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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