Friends of the Huron County Airport
1656 Jarvis Road
Wakeman, OH 44889
Facebook: Friends of the Huron County Airport
Tel # (419) 262-0691
April 22, 2011 (Back to FAA Initiatives At Ohio Airport Compromised Under GOP And DOT Pressure)
Mr. Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
RE: Huron County Airport (5A1), Norwalk, OH
Proposed 2011 egress plan for Summit Motorsport Park
Dear Secretary LaHood:
As the president of an Ohio not for profit airport support group, I currently represent over 85 individuals who strongly support the sustainability, and continued operation of the Huron County Airport (5A1), an FAA federally obligated facility, in north central Ohio. We are extremely disappointed in recent actions taken by high level officials within your department, and under your supervision. We believe the actions taken were a result of political pressures, or favors originating from specific Ohio congressional offices.
Top level official(s) within DOT apparently contacted subordinates through your chain of command, who contacted the FAA Regional Manager of Airports, Ms. Susan Schalk, Great Lakes Region, Des Plaines, IL. She was apparently instructed to intervene, and contradict the specific requirements placed upon the Huron County Airport Authority, Huron County Commissioners, and The Summit Motorsport Park, by the Detroit, FAA Airports District Office.
The Detroit ADO has overseen the aeronautical, and non-aeronautical issues involving this Ohio airport for many years. The recent actions conducted by your officials, include interfering, manipulating and contravening the normal operations and mandates of a federal agency. These described actions are problematic and contradict current FAA policy at best, and show a lack of integrity by senior officials within your department, and the FAA.
The original five page letter in question, dated March 22, 2011, was written by Ms. Stephanie Swann, Assistant Manager, Detroit Airports District Office, Romulus, MI. Ms. Swann’s letter dealt with the requested closures of the Huron County Airport’s only runway during the summer of 2011, for multiple non-aeronautical events. Exclusive use the airport runway was requested on five different occasions for vehicular traffic egress, by the Summit Motorsport Park (a drag strip business adjacent to the airport).
Ms. Swann (an employee with 18+ yr experience, and seniority within the FAA) understands that the Huron County Airport, a federally obligated facility (last receiving federal AIP grant money during 2007), has been intentionally defunded over the past five years by our county commissioners, who are aligned with, and support the owner of the adjacent seasonal private enterprise (drag strip).
The business owner has stated on record that he needs to buy the entire airport property for his own private expansion plans. The county commissioners have further stated that they are in favor of selling the property to the business owner for his intended expansion. Over the past ten years, numerous airport resources have been given to the drag strip owner by our county commissioners for little, or no compensation to the airport.
Ms. Swann, who is very familiar with all parties involved, and the numerous issues that have involved the airport over the past years, reviewed all of the facts, evidence, and the public comments (regarding the requested airport/runway closures), prior to composing the letter encompassing all issues and concerns of the aeronautical community, and requesting private business. As an FAA employee, Ms. Swann’s duties and agency mandates, require her to protect, and ensure the interests of the aeronautical community, and the airport facilities under her supervision. As such, Ms. Swann requested reasonable, and sufficient funding so the Huron County Airport could move towards becoming more self-sustaining (as specified in FAA policy), and not require further county funding.
In addition, Ms. Swann used the private businesses’ own economic impact study claiming $100 million, to help establish the reasonable fees quoted in the letter. Ms. Swann and her office defended their position stipulating that as a successful business, the adjacent drag strip should help support the airport financially for it use, and also absorb all additional expenditures which might be incurred by the airport as a result of the runway closures, and inconvenience to the aeronautical community normally using the facility. The letter spelled out each segment of a complete operational plan which ensured the financial stability of the airport, the safety concerns for vehicular and potential air traffic, identified the duties of all concerned parties, and finally, helped the drag strip owner solve his major problem, while showing the airport sympathetic to the needs of a neighboring business, and community.
Shortly after the letter was received by the Huron County Commissioners, a member of your Washington Office staff was contacted to begin planning an intervention, and complete overhaul of the Detroit District ADO’s operational plan, to satisfy local and federal politicians, and the local drag strip owner. Upon receipt of the FAA’s March 22 letter, the local politicians pretended to be offended by what they called the attitude, and tone of the letter. As staunch supporters of the drag strip owner, they called the fees absurd because they had previously conducted a private deal with the business owner and set $8000 as the fee for the five temporary closures. Their actions were nothing more than a ploy to get all fees lowered for the private business owner they support.
Two days following receipt of Ms. Swann’s letter, Ms. Susan Schalk, Regional Airports Manager, Great Lakes Region, called requesting a meeting of local officials to reopen the closure issues, fees, and operational plan requirements. By the end of the same week, Ms. Schalk had flown to Ohio and met with local officials apologizing for the contents of the March 22 letter. By the end of Ms. Schalk’s intervention and re-negotiation, the business owner’s fees to the airport had been decreased by about 70%, to $10,000.
Although Ms. Schalk stated during the discussions that the $10,000 she was agreeing to did not represent reasonable or adequate fees for use of the airport, she was unwilling to negotiate a higher fee, on the airport’s behalf. Her decision to dramatically lower the amount could be viewed as a precedent and disadvantage the airport’s attempt to negotiate higher fees in future years. The additional expenses to be absorbed by the drag strip owner are also missing from Ms. Schalk’s plan, and may have to be deducted from airport fees collected.
The rest of Ms. Schalk’s new operational plan is substandard in comparison to the original (showing a lack of understanding of FAA policy, and protocols), and does not adequately address all issues, especially safety concerns, nor does it completely address the rest of the concerns of the airport. As a result of her intervention, she has created uncertainty in the minds of the aeronautical community.
Instead of being commended for her actions, Ms. Swann and her staff have instead been criticized by superiors for authoring the letter, which in our, and AOPA’s opinion, was very well written with adequate substantiation. Ms. Swann, has been embarrassed and shown a lack of respect by your agency for carrying out her duties, and following the mandates of the FAA. As a result of your office’s intervention, Ms. Swann’s personal, and professional credibility has been damaged. Instead of supporting a senior FAA employee who actually understands her obligations to the air transportation system, and aviation community, your officials bowed to the personal agenda of federal, and local politicians, who appear to be only concerned with the interest of one private non aeronautical, seasonal business owner.
During the recent Ohio Aviation Association (OAA) conference in Columbus, OH, I was able to meet Ms. Schalk, hear her speak, and partake in a short personal discussion regarding the issues surrounding the Huron County Airport (5A1). A few weeks prior, I had called Ms. Schalk and left a voice mail requesting a return call, which was never returned. It is my understanding that Ms. Schalk is a recently hired employee from the private sector, who was selected for a high level position within the FAA. I can tell you that I (as well as the other attendees of the OAA session) were unimpressed with Ms. Schalk attitude and predisposed intention to purposely side step questions regarding the enforcing of FAA mandates, and grant assurance requirements, for federally obligated airports under the threat of closure.
During our personal conversation, which included the Huron County Airport Board President, Ms. Schalk never refuted, or denied that she had received instructions from a top level official(s) in DOT/FAA to intervene on the Huron County Airport issue. I stated, I was extremely disappointed that she would so quickly overturn the decisions of her own more senior and familiar Detroit FAA employees. I explained our organization felt the original letter from Ms. Swann was well written, and showed a knowledge of the situation, a concern for the aviation community, and the airport's future sustainability.
I told her that the solution she endorsed merely postponed major airport issues, and insured that the facility would continue to be defunded. I attempted to explain to Ms. Schalk that the county commissioners, and the drag strip owner’s goal, is the subsequent closure and sale of the airport to the raceway. I stated that the private business owner will continue to request annual closures to ensure they are in compliance with the National Hot Rod Association’s requirements and complaints, until the time comes when the airport is in such disarray, they can position themselves for a takeover, and try to purchase the airport property.
Instead of the concern for the airport and aviation community one would expect from an FAA official in her position, Ms. Schalk responded that our not for profit support group, and the airport board, needed to convince the community and businesses (including the drag strip owner) that the airport was important enough to keep. In fact, Ms. Schalk further stated to both the airport board president, and myself, that our failure to garner support for the sustainability of the Huron County Airport would be reviewed and evaluated as one of her future determining factors in deciding the sustainability of the airport. I was outraged by her position and attitude, which I feel is in conflict with her own agency’s responsibilities, and unbecoming of a federal employee in her position. Her statements are totally opposite of those professed by FAA employees throughout this country that I have had the privilege to speak with.
Ms. Schalk stated she would not commit herself to discussing federal grant assurance obligations with the local county commissioners. Instead of following the intent of FAA's policies and mandates which more than infer support for the concerns and future of the air transportation system and aviation, she quickly pointed out the airport could be sold via a legislative action, and that we should begin working on new airport plans, and priorities, to convince the other side and her office to support the sustainability of the facility. Again, I thought her job was to help ensure and support the sustainability of airports within her area of responsibility.
The FAA’s primary responsibility is to protect the air transportation infrastructure, and the aeronautical community within this country. I see nothing in FAA literature that states they are responsible for ensuring the success of a private adjacent seasonal business, which happens to be a drag strip This is a federal employee being instructed to turn a blind eye, and contradict more senior competent employees, using them as scape goats, showing more concern for a private business than the aeronautical community and airport facilities, as mandated by policies and regulations of the federal agency she is supposed to represent.
These actions down the chain of command were certainly initiated by a representative within the US legislative branch. No one else would have this type of clout to pressure or get action from the DOT hierarchy. The interference by your officials for political reasons is unconscionable. Her contradiction of the Detroit office’s letter shows a lack of regard and respect for the abilities and work of competent FAA employees who were familiar with all the issues.
I am offended by the attitude shown, and the statements made by Ms. Schalk. I am further shocked that she would state that a failure by our not for profit support group to convince local businesses, and the community to support the airport’s sustainability would be a major factor in her office’s future determination as to the sustainability of the Huron County Airport. As a representative of the FAA and the aviation community, it is her job to protect and fight for federally obligated airports and the aviation community. Her positions and responses are supposed to bring clarity and confidence to the aeronautical community. If she does anything less, she is negligent in her duties, and should be replaced by an individual who better understands and supports airports and the aviation community.
I am requesting that you investigate this issue immediately and provide me with the name(s) of the official(s) who took part in the requested intervention, as well as their official titles, and telephone numbers. I want to know the nature of the conversation(s) between your department official(s) and the legislative official or representative who requested the intervention. I want any and all emails, or written correspondence concerning this issue. I also want the names of all FAA superiors who were involved and condoned this interference and contradiction. Please consider this as an official FOIA request for information.
Finally, I can not believe that you would condone such actions by your staff, and hope that you will take appropriate corrective measures to prevent any similar types of interference from occurring in the future. As a retired federal law enforcement officer, with almost thirty-two years of credible and proud government law enforcement service, I am ashamed for your agency, and disturbed that your staff would openly conspire to carry out this plan of interference. I would strongly recommend that this situation be turned over, and investigated by your own Inspector General’s Office.
If you should have any questions, or if you would like to discuss the issue in further detail, please feel free to contact me.
Daniel LeClair, President
Friends of the Huron County Airport
cc: AOPA, EAA, OAA, AVSTOP, file
The Friends of the Huron County Airport is a 501(c)(3) organization, whose goals are to focus public attention on the Huron County Airport to show its continuing importance and economic value to the community: To promote the use of the airport and airport resources: To encourage financial donations, endowments and bequests from the community to further the development, and enhancement of the Huron County Airport.