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Great Lakes Article:

Residents to fight airport fence plan
Group says FAA route could harm Park Point forest

Duluth News Tribune
Aug. 22, 2002

A decision has been made on just where to build a new fence around Duluth's Sky Harbor Airport.

But not so fast.

Some nearby residents and Park Point Community Club members have hired an attorney and plan to go to court to keep the controversial fence from going through the heart of an old-growth forest. They fear trees will be damaged and the public's access to trails cut off in the forest near the end of the point.

But that's the route chosen this month by officials from the Federal Aviation Administration. They picked it over a location along the edge of the forest that had been pitched by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and that had support from some residents and from the Duluth Airport Authority.

"They're the ones providing the money for this project," airport authority Executive Director Ray Klosowski said of the FAA. "It's their call. With this decision made, we'll press ahead now with the fence until we have some legal reason to stop."

Klosowski expects $450,000 in federal money for the fence and for other airport improvements to arrive within several weeks. Construction would begin soon thereafter, he said.

If the courts don't step in.

"It's not over. It can't be," said Dave Johnson, a Park Point Community Club member and one of the neighborhood's most outspoken critics of the fence.

"I don't want to come across as a bunny-hugger, but it galls me that my own tax money is being used against me," Johnson said, referring to his neighborhood's abundance of rabbits. "I agree a fence is important, but it should go along the most logical route. They've been ramming this thing down our throats. And now we've been brushed aside. I think it sucks."

Because the fence would keep out the public, Johnson and other neighbors said, they see the project as a land grab by the airport.

While planning for the future of their neighborhood as part of the city of Duluth's comprehensive planning process, Park Point residents decided it was important to protect the pine forest near Sky Harbor.

"How valuable is our planning process if we can't accomplish one of our top priorities?" Johnson asked. "All of our meetings have been a complete waste of time. But we're not done yet."

Airport officials want the 6-foot, chain-link fence for safety. Bicyclists, dog-walkers and others have been known to sometimes wander onto airport property, oblivious to the dangers to themselves or to pilots landing and taking off. Two plans, one in 1976 and the other in 1999, called for the perimeter fence at the recreational, one-runway facility.

The fence's construction would eat up about $170,000 of the $450,000 in federal money. Other planned work at the airport includes building new hangars, repairing a rotating beacon, installing new runway lights and repaving the airport's ramp area.

"There's a perception we're going to put up this fence and then clear out all the trees around it, just cut them all down," Klosowski said. "We're not.

But the fence almost certainly will damage the forest, said Bob Djupstrom, supervisor of scientific and natural areas in the DNR's division of ecological services in St. Paul. He met with FAA officials Monday but was unable to alter their decision.

"We think it's a very unfortunate decision," Djupstrom said. "I am very surprised. I find it to be somewhat arbitrary.

"If you put a fence through there you are going to damage the old-growth forest. Absolutely," he said. "You'll damage root systems and you'll no doubt do damage to trees during the construction. And then when those trees die, that'll open up the forest to more wind and then more wind damage and other damage."

The FAA's decision follows policy, said Gordon Nelson, program manager for the FAA's airport district office in Minneapolis.

"Our policy is to construct perimeter fences along perimeters," Nelson said. "Perimeter fences go along the perimeters of airports."

The fence route deviates from the airport's sometimes-disputed boundary. That happens near the terminal where it's routed to avoid sand dunes and rare dune grasses.

"It deviates where they want it to deviate, but not where others want it to," Djupstrom said.

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