A likely expansion at a rural Millstadt airstrip is pitting many residents worried about increased air traffic against a company that just got preliminary approval to build four hangars there.
The St. Clair County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the construction at the Southwest Illinois Sport Aviation Flight Park, which is about two miles southwest of Millstadt, on Monday night. The decision will go before the county board, which often votes according to the recommendation of committees, on Nov. 27.
Bob McDaniel, who operates Flight Park, Inc., with his wife and son, stated that he took sound readings of a powered parachute and an airplane in August, and that both measurements compared to levels people are used to.
“The engine sound is not a natural sound that you’d expect to hear out there, and it does make you sit up and take notice, but it’s not an unusually loud noise,” he said on Monday.
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But several of the nearly two dozen residents who came to the appeals meeting said that activity at the airstrip is already disruptive, and they are worried that more hangars at the airstrip would increase air traffic.
“This man’s got a great plan, but it’s not as neighborly as it’s proposed to be,” said Alan Sternau, who lives to the immediate southeast of the airstrip.
Sternau said that many planes have flown low near his house that came from the airstrip. One circled his house seven times, but it was too far away to see its identification number on the side; when it flew directly over his house, he couldn’t see it then, either.
Aaron Goddard, who lives on Bohleysville Road, said when a Boy Scout troop launched rockets at the airstrip, the boys looked for them on his property and gathered at a fence on the pasture where his horses grazed. On a different day, some people looking for the airstrip wandered to his house and garage looking for him to ask directions and later drove onto the airstrip itself.
“I don’t want to have to put up no-trespassing signs,” Goddard said. “I don’t want to have to (call the police) every time something like that happens.”
Bruce Douglas, who lives nearby on Roenicke Road, said he saw some Ultralights fly so low that he thought one of them was going to land on his barn.
And Victoria Marianovich, of Algonquin Forest Road, said a plane flew so low she “thought one was going to crash into my house.”
But those who favored building the hangars said they would have no effect on air traffic, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We’re way off the situation here,” said Gene Stumpf, who is leasing the airstrip to McDaniel. “We could fly 100 (planes) in there a day.”
The airstrip’s flight route shows that planes are supposed to follow a rectangular pattern that goes between the properties of Stumpf and Sternau, who lives on the next property over about a half mile away. The flight path is slightly closer to Stumpf’s property, but that doesn’t mean planes stick to it at all times.
“Pilots are expected to adjust their traffic pattern as required for the wind conditions,” McDaniel said in an email. “If there’s a strong wind out of the south they would fly a wider pattern. If there’s a strong wind out of the north they would fly closer to the runway.”
“I’m not there all the time so I don’t see the flying that goes on,” McDaniel continued. “But if someone has a complaint or concern, my phone number is readily available.”
The hangars will occupy 9,500 square feet of land, the largest one of which will 50 feet by 50 feet, according to building plans. If approved by the county board, McDaniel hopes to pour a couple of the foundations as soon as he can get a building permit before the winter weather sets in.
The amount of land the hangars could occupy is also important to Sternau. With less land for grass to slow down rain water, Sternau is concerned that it would run faster into the field surrounding the airstrip and cause more erosion when it travels downhill to his farm, which, despite being contoured to control runoff, still has a problem with it.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency stated it didn’t find the hangars would increase erosion, and, because they would take up less than 10,000 square feet, McDaniel does not need a permit from the county Storm Water Management and Erosion Control.
Still, in a Sept. 26 letter, he outlined several conditions he would still adopt to mitigate the issue, including putting up a silt fence and sediment barrier. Then, after the site is “stabilized,” the sediment controls will be removed.