Citizen Wausau

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Musings On The Wausau Downtown Airport

by on November 6th, 2007

Last week, a neighbor knocked on my door to ask for my signature on a petition to save the trees marked for removal by the Wausau Downtown Airport. A bit of a tree-hugger myself, I can sympathize with those in my southeast side neighborhood who have made it their mission to preserve the beauty and shade provided by these lovely trees.

There’s just one problem, though. The trees are already dead.

The vast majority of the trees slated for removal, now draped with ribbons and signs to “save this tree” are either hollow inside or diseased and decaying enough that they will be dead within three years. In fact, upon further investigation, it appears that these trees would have been cut down by North Central Health Care regardless of the FAA mandate – and they were only too happy to pass the task on to someone else.

Unfortunately, the airport has been left twisting in the wind, and is now under serious fire from neighborhood nature lovers. Some have gone so far as to question whether the airport is truly necessary, and have begun a petition to close it – a move that by all accounts would be disastrous for our local economy.

A handful of attendees at last week’s informational meeting claimed that the airport costs taxpayers far too much money to justify it’s existence. The city reports the actual burden on taxpayers amounts to a mere $1.28 for the owner of a $100,000 home – less than $2 a year for most Wausau residents. As it turns out, the return on that investment is phenomenal. Though the airport alone does not generate tax revenue, the hangars within the airport certainly do. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to recent figures, airport business contributes roughly $1.2 million to the local economy each year.

Wausau’s municipal airport is not only a relevant and necessary component to our community’s economic health; they have become a good community partner in many ways. The presence of the airport carries a great deal of weight with companies who wish to do business here. Aspirus uses the airport for medical helicopters, flying the injured to our hospitals. Planes carrying lifesaving organ donations arrive and depart regularly with their precious cargo as well.

And then, of course, there’s the fun stuff: the airport hosts a variety of community events each year, including the wildly popular Balloon Rally, an event attended by thousands. Every summer, our children are enriched by their incredible flight camp programs and Young Eagles flights. These are just a few examples of the wonderful opportunities presented by having a community airport.

It’s time to let go of the hostility and focus on coming up with solutions for the future, including the planting of new, healthy trees that won’t be a hazard – not only to the pilots who use the airport, but also to the Health Care Center clients and employees. Let’s remember, too, that airport management didn’t come up with the idea to cut down these trees on their own – they’re only complying with FAA regulations.

The Wausau Downtown Airport was established in the 1920’s. Surely the sound of planes and helicopters overhead cannot be a surprise to neighborhood residents. Rid our community of the municipal airport? Unthinkable – unless you are prepared to face the economic consequences, which by all accounts would be dire. Perhaps instead, when you hear the next helicopter overhead, think of another life saved – one more precious than the lives of a few dying trees.

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