Proposed Price Co. airport expansion sparks debate - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Proposed Price Co. airport expansion sparks debate

PRICE COUNTY (WAOW) -- A proposed expansion to the Price County airport has sparked a heated debate. 

The debate over expanding the Price County airport began nine years ago.

"That airport brought corporate people from Caterpillar to Phillips to make that deal here a few years ago," said Frank Kempf, the Park Falls area economic director. "It's going to provide jobs to everybody here in Price County."

But last August, things really got heated.

"This is something that touched me," said Blake Pluemer, who lives south of the airport. "It's literally in my own backyard. It's the kind of thing I would have heard about after it was all done, looked back and talked to people and said, man, that is really stupid. What a waste of money."

Some people have gotten so involved -- they made matching hats and hired a lawyer.

"It's a waste of money. They don't think that this is needed," said attorney Paul McKeever. "The airport is fine the way it is. This is not a good use of taxpayer dollars."

Airport leaders proposed the project in 2003. They said the main taxiway intersection needs to be expanded.

"We've researched our intersection configuration and determined that we can do better. It's our responsibility to provide safety at this airport and we take that very seriously," said airport manager Chris Hallstrand.

The county board has voted on this project four times in the past decade. Most recently, last year -- with a unanimous vote supporting it.

"I don't expect the opposition will diminish, but I also feel that for the most part, the board still supports the project," said Price County board chair Bob Kopisch.

But opponents said they've collected more than 1,100 signatures against the project. They said fixing the intersection is unnecessary and expensive.

"We don't put stop signs at every intersection because there's not enough traffic and we understand that's not cost effective," said McKeever.

Not all of those signatures are from people in Price County -- or even Wisconsin.

The Price County chair said the expansion would cost about $5 million. Kopisch said most of that money would come from the federal government.

"If we don't use it, it's not going to go to offsetting tax levies in Price County," said Kopisch. "It's not going to go to our schools. It's there for airports."

But more opposition is growing. Three county supervisors want to stop the expansion altogether. The board voted to send the issue back to the airport committee -- meaning the debate is not quite grounded, but will be delayed for now.

If the board ends up approving the expansion, construction could start by late summer.

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