City leaders debate Milford Airport's future

Friday, August 17, 2012
The Milford Airport, located just north of the new fire station and a block west of Highway 71 has recently drawn the attention of a Milford City Council member. Don Olsen on Monday night put forward a motion to put the fate of the airport in the hands of Milford voters. His motion died due to the lack of a second.

A motion to put the Milford Airport's future in the hands of voters was rerouted Monday night at the Milford City Council meeting.

Milford Council member Don Olsen is among a group of citizens who would like to see the airport disbanded. He thinks the city is losing money by allowing the airport to remain open.

"If it can't be self-sufficient -- there are only two people using it that are tax-paying residents of Milford -- why should we pay the liability of a skydiver?" Olsen said. "I just don't believe the residents should have to budget $25,000 a year to support the airport when two residents use it."

The airport is located directly north of the fire station and one block west of Highway 71 in the town of 2,898 residents. Runways at the local airport are capable of accommodating small engine airplanes and other aircraft. As of April, it was also the launching point for a new company called Skydive Okoboji.

The skydiving company's owner, Eric Hartung, is quick to mention that his business is helping the community of Milford.

"Half of my customers came here specifically just to jump out of my airplane," he said. "I could go to Spirit Lake, but I like Milford because it's a little quieter. It's a lot more convenient for me and my customers."

The city's airport commission also opposes Olsen's effort to put the airport issue to a public vote.

"We do have a business out there," said Airport Commissioner Chris Stein. "People are coming specifically to skydive with Skydive Okoboji."

Since the Milford airport is too small for use by commercial airlines, it doesn't receive federal funds. Some funds are received through the state -- the rest comes from local sources.

"I have nothing against the airport, but the time has come, things have changed," Olsen said. "There's no planes there to speak of and the city feels the taxpayers need to support it. I disagree -- all I wanted to do was get it on the ballot this November and let the taxpayers of Milford decide whether or not they wanted to continue to support it."

Olsen's motion to put the airport referendum on the general election ballot died due to a lack of a second in part because of a procedural issue, according to Milford City Administrator Matt Skaret.

"Because there is an airport commission, there would have to be a public vote to disband the commission," he said. "And then the airport would fall under the authority of the city council."

Olsen said he wasn't calling for the airport to be disbanded immediately, he was just hoping to hear what the Milford community had to say about the issue.

"If they (the residents of Milford) do want to continue to support it -- you'll never hear a word again out of me," Olsen said. "I had several people pushing me and, to me, this is ridiculous money spent."

Hartung, the skydiving company owner, said he is saving the city on maintenance costs while attracting tourists to the community.

"Since I've came in here, I've volunteered my labor," Hartung said. "Before, the city had to pay somebody. I do all the maintenance for free. The only thing they (the city of Milford) have to pay for is the equipment and gas. As far as labor, there is none now because I do it all for free. It's frustrating for me as a new business owner in town, but I do it because I want to help the city out and make everything prosper. I don't want to be a liability for anything. And now they are going to come down and close the airport?"

Olsen felt he made a solid effort to reflect the wishes of some taxpayers.

"I've done everything I could do -- I brought up a motion and it died on the floor. I feel like I've done my part, it's OK. It was defeated, I can live with it," he said. "I think we have a wonderful community here but we need to live within our needs."

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