November 18, 2018

County to name airport after former commissioner

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MIO — The Oscoda County Board of Commissioners has decided to name the county’s airport after former Commissioner Dennis Kauffman.

The board approved a resolution changing the official name of the airport to the Oscoda County Dennis Kauffman Memorial Airport at its Aug. 9 regular meeting.

Kauffman served on the Board of Commissioners for more than 20 years, representing the Comins Township and Fairview areas, before retiring from the board Jan. 1, 2010. He died Oct. 20, 2010, after sustaining injuries in an off-road vehicle accident eight days prior.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Chairman Joe Stone said he and Commissioner Richard Monk, the board’s liaison to the airport, talked about renaming the airport in Kauffman’s honor.

“We thought it would be a nice gesture,” he said.

Monk, who was appointed to the vacant board position after Kauffman’s retirement, said Kauffman deserves the honor for his contributions to the airport project and the Oscoda County community during his time as commissioner.

“Dennis Kauffman was probably the longest-running commissioner we’ve had,” Monk said, adding that the chances for the airport project even getting started would have been less were it not for Kauffman’s efforts.

“He put a lot of time and effort into it,” Monk said. “He was instrumental in getting everything off the ground. He had a vision of getting the airport going.”

Monk said the county hopes to have a dedication ceremony for the airport on Sept. 1, Kauffman’s birthday. However, he said nothing has been finalized in that regard.

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It's commendable that the County Commission is going to honor the memory of Mr. Kauffman for his years of service. However the airport project is not without its problems. Let me explain.

In late 2004, I happened upon a fantastic opportunity to buy a cottage and property in Mio. After one visit my family and I fell in love the place. The house was almost new, built just a couple of years before. It stood on the site of an old hunting cabin; the original hand-cut fieldstone fireplace from the early 20th century became the centerpiece for the new house, which had just enough space for the whole family. The house nestled in nearly six acres of secluded woodlands, surrounded by the Huron National Forest. We visited often, working on the house and property until it was just right. Every time we came up, we patronized the area’s stores, restaurants and activity centers. We enjoyed cooking dinner over the fire pit. We walked countless hours through the woods with our dogs, marveling at the wildlife. We picked bushel upon bushel of wild blueberries every summer. In the winter, we snowmobiled down expertly groomed trails. This indeed was heaven on earth…a place I could leave to my kids and grandkids, for generations of enjoyment in Northern Michigan’s wonders.

Alas, it was not to be. You see, this little piece of land sat smack-dab right at the end of a strip of county property surrounding the Oscoda County Airport. A few years after we moved in, someone convinced the Oscoda County Board of Commissioners that expanding the airport would be a good idea, especially if they could get someone else to pay for it. Without really determining a true need for the expansion, Oscoda County simply took a $3 million-plus handout from the Federal and State Governments for the convenience and benefit of a few airplane owners.

And our property was in the way.

It’s been suggested that the airport project will bring lots of new business to Oscoda County by increasing air traffic. On that, only time will tell; but we’ve all heard numerous stories about other failed “if you build it, they will come” public projects. What hasn’t been reported is what the project is really costing the County and its residents and businesses. Private land is being gobbled up all around the airport, land owned by families who pay their property taxes, spend their money in Oscoda County, and supported local businesses. Since the County is taking over all this private property, it means tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue, which will most likely be replaced by raising taxes within the county. It also means fewer people to patronize local businesses that stand to lose thousands or more in future business revenue.

Certain officials in the Oscoda County Commission champion the Tea Party ideals of reduced government spending and less government intrusion on private citizens. I find that ironic, because when a juicy project like this comes along, these same officials are all too eager to stick out their hands for the Big Government money, add to the national fiscal crisis they constantly complain about, take over private property, and stomp on the rights of the people they are elected to serve. Their hypocrisy is tragic. Since my primary residence and voter registration is elsewhere, I can’t vote them out. But I can and will vote with my wallet.

Now, I can’t speak for the other property owners who were forced out, or the ones that will be forced out soon (see http://www.michigan.gov/documents/aero/Mio_317153_7.pdf ... property owners north and south of the airport, your day is coming too!). But thanks to the County and its grand plan, we’ll no longer be having meals at The Branch Café, Paddle Inn, Mio Pizza, O’Brien’s, or anywhere else in the area. We won’t be shopping at Cricket’s, Mio Ace Hardware, Fairview Lumber, the Bakery, or Glen’s. We won’t bring our snowmobiles to Klimmek’s for service and repairs or buy gear at Northern Powersports. We won’t rent canoes and rafts at Gott’s Landing or Hinchman Acres. Now, don’t get me wrong…it’s not the fault of these fine places. But after being forced out by the county government, we just don’t have a compelling reason to visit and spend money in Oscoda County. And I guarantee we won’t be the last.

Think about it…someone with a small plane can fly almost anywhere. One year, they’ll fly to Mio. Next year, they’ll be somewhere else. But someone with property, a house, an investment in the local economy, will visit many times a year, for a long time. Ask yourself, which one contributes more to the local economy?

So what’s going to happen to the property? Now that it has been taken over by the County, those wooded acres I was planning to leave to my kids will be cleared of every tree, shrub and bush. The almost-new pine-paneled house that held the promise of a lifetime of memories with my children and grandchildren will be picked apart and bulldozed to the ground. As for us, we’ll take our settlement (paid for by you, the taxpayer) and travel to other places in Michigan and elsewhere, all while keeping a wide berth around Oscoda County.

With all due respect to Mr. Kauffman, I believe his memory could have been better honored than to name the airport after him, an airport that will displace many County property owners.

Residents of Oscoda County, enjoy your shiny new airport…you’ll be paying more for it than you thought.

Monday, August 22, 2011 | Report this

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