Islanders Worry Airstrip Delays Could Isolate Them

MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio (AP) - Delays in opening a new airstrip have year-round residents worried that they may be stranded next winter on this Lake Erie island.

The $6.5 million paved airstrip should have opened after it was finished a year ago, but now there is little progress as it sits empty.

"Middle Bass residents are frustrated, and I don't blame them. Middle Bass has a new airport that we can't use," said Dale Burris, a trustee of Put-in-Bay Township, which governs the island.

For years, residents used a gravel airstrip next to Lonz Winery for winter transportation, but the state bought the property in 2000 for a park.

Pilots landed at the new runway last winter even though it was not officially open. But this spring orange X's were taped on the airstrip and "closed" signs were posted at the building. Pilots could be cited if they land.

Problems including grading a runway safety area must be corrected before the airport can open, said Rudy Rudolph, administrator of the state's Office of Aviation, which certifies commercial airports.

An additional $1.1 million is needed for the corrections, said Monica Drake, executive director of the Put-in-Bay Township Port Authority.

The port authority is hiring a new consulting firm to review the project.

There are 40 year-round residents who depend on planes for mail and supplies once the ferry boats stop running in the fall.

John Glauser is hoping the airport will open soon. His 13-year-old son, Michael, is one of three Middle Bass children who ride an airplane to school on South Bass Island.

He jokes about the airstrip, which he calls an expensive playground for Canada geese. But come fall, he said, he won't be laughing if his son has to miss school.

Another problem is that some trees are too close to the airport and must be removed.

Gus Ubaldi, president of consulting engineer Whitworth-Borta Co., said the port authority was told early on that more trees would have to come down or be topped.

Island pilot Bob Wernecke said a pilot not familiar with Middle Bass Island might have trouble with the trees since a 1,852-foot runway is considered short.

Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Port Clinton, said the airport should be allowed to open while the problems are fixed.

"These obviously do not pose a risk to pilots," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)