INVESTIGATION: Taylor Co. Airport Numbers Greatly Exaggerated on Fed. Grant Application

By: Liz Hayes Email
By: Liz Hayes Email

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, since 2006 the Taylor County Airport in Medford has received $6.9 million in Federal grants. But the way the County secured, and has used those funds is coming under question.

The money was allocated through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) designed to provide funds for the planning and development of public-use airports.

In Taylor County's case, some of the money went toward acquiring land from airport neighbors who were forced to sell their property so the airport could extend its runway.

In December 2011, the entire Taylor County Airport Committee, which had approved a multimillion dollar airport expansion project, was abruptly replaced. A special attorney hired by the county to look into the matter says the split was not based on any wrongdoing or illegal behavior.

"I would classify them as management issues as it relates to decisions being made by the committee and its members and decisions being made by the airport manager and a conflict between the two groups," said Andrew Phillips, of Phillips Borowski, S.C. in Mequon.

Airport Manager Jim Wood says he isn't allowed to talk about the relationship between himself and the former committee. Former committee members say the same.

When NewsChannel 7 sent an open records request to obtain any records discussing the relationship between the former committee and airport manager it was denied. Ken Schmiege, who is Corporation Counsel for Taylor County said the request of the records regarding the relationship between the committee and management was too vague and would break attorney-client privilege.

NewsChannel 7 learned that in a federal appropriations request for 2008, a Taylor County project summary claimed in 2007 the general airport had 7,500 operations, which includes flights and takeoffs.

But according to records released by Jim Wood, there were only 820 operations recorded for the year.

The project manager from the Bureau of Aeronautics, Eric Johnson, says the number was "an estimate."

The same appropriations request was used to secure $3.2 million to reimburse the county for land it bought for a runway extension, that since has been completed.

Dave Obey, who represented the 7th Congressional District at the time, helped secure the funding.

Don Berger reluctantly sold his land to the county for the project, but he says there's barely any airport traffic.

"Not a bit, there ain't a plane that woke me up since that thing went in there," Berger said.

Berger says he was treated unfairly by committee members, and that the county even rented out his land prior to construction even though as part of the agreement he was allowed to rent out his land.

"I had the notorized thing that said I had the right to rent that land until construction started," he said.

When he went to the board of supervisors, he was reimbursed for the rent. But Berger says there was also a misunderstanding over the easement payment on his property. He says he was given one offer, but when he got to the meeting the offer had dropped.

"Somebody at the meeting said I have a better memory than you. He said this is what it is, so I accepted it like a dummy," he said.

The Taylor County Airmen Association agrees that the project is a waste of taxpayer money.

But the new airport committee is currently considering even more expansion plans, including building a million dollar terminal building and adding taxiways to accommodate corporate travel, which accounts for about one percent of air traffic.

"I don't want the taxpayers to spend anymore money than they have to out here," said Dwayne Parkinson, a pilot who uses the airport. "I think this airport services the community just fine."

More than $400,000 is banked for future projects for the airport.

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