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Published: Tuesday, 11/5/2002

Grant clears path for stalled airport project

MIDDLE BASS ISLAND - A year and a half after it was scheduled to open, the new airport on this island is getting a boost toward completion from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The state last week awarded the Put-in-Bay Township Port Authority a $170,000 grant that covers the local share of the airport's $1.7 million final phase, which has been stalled for nearly two years. The grant means the port authority won't have to borrow money to finish the airport.

“It was very kind of them to do that,” said Monica Drake, executive director of the port authority. “We know we can get through this now, get this project done, and not worry about how are we going to repay this debt.”

The funds from the state will pay to buy land and acquire easements so the port authority can remove trees that block access to the west end of the airport's 1,582-foot runway, said Rudy Rudolph, ODOT's aviation director. Grading work and wetlands relocation also is planned.

Ms. Drake said the grading work should be completed this month, allowing limited use of the airport this winter. Planes will be able to approach the airport from the east and take off to the east.

The tree removal, however, is more complicated, because Indiana bats use the island's trees as habitat from spring to autumn. It is illegal to remove such trees between April 15 and Sept. 15, and Ms. Drake said it's unlikely the trees can be taken out by this spring.

If the April 15 deadline isn't met, the airport won't be fully open until next autumn.

“If we could get it done before April 15 that would be fantastic,” she said. “Otherwise, we'll have to wait.”

The state took the unusual step of covering the 5 percent local share - $85,000 - because the port authority didn't have the money, and ODOT wanted to get the project done, Mr. Rudolph said.

The lion's share of the project's cost - 90 percent - is being paid by the Federal Aviation Administration. Overall, the airport construction will cost more than $6 million by the time it is done.

“Because we felt it was necessary to get the airport opened, we went and paid the 5 percent local share,” Mr. Rudolph said. “The island airports are a very unique airport system, and the residents rely on them when there's no ferry service.”

For residents of the Bass islands, air service is a vital link to the mainland, especially in the winter, when ferry service usually stops. Islanders rely on planes to go back and forth and to bring groceries and other supplies.

Middle Bass, which covers 758 acres, has about 40 year-round residents. Planes now must use a small grass airstrip.

The port authority bought the airports on South Bass Island and North Bass Island in the early 1990s and upgraded them for public use, adding paved runways. Ms. Drake said the agency is still repaying debt it incurred for those projects.



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