Steve Miller, representing Gary Oil Company, speaks with the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority about possibly bringing a truck driving program to the airport property.

OSCODA – Those from Gary Oil Company are looking to establish a truck driving training program at the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA) property.

Among other business, this was discussed at the Oct. 10 OWA Authority (OWAA) meeting, which was attended by Gary Oil personnel Steve Miller and Chris Rudolph.

According to OWA Manager Gary Kellan, they submitted an application to utilize Building No. 5096, located across from the jet engine test cell area.

In addition to using the existing building for a classroom, Kellan said the company would also utilize the adjacent, deactivated pavements as part of the driving school.

“I taught for Iosco RESA [Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency] for six years and, the first three years that I worked for them, we had this facility. And it’s just an outstanding area for what we use it for,” said Miller.

He noted that there is very limited traffic, which helps get participants more comfortable before they start driving on the highway.

“I believe this area offers a lot more than what other schools in this state offer. I would really like to see it happen again,” Miller continued.

“I’ve written a new curriculum for it; it’s going to be four weeks long. So each class we have will be out here for a month,” he added.

“I think it would be a very, very good thing for the community,” Miller expressed.

“Is IRESA not offering theirs anymore?” asked OWAA alternate Mary Jo Samotis, who sat in for Kevin Beliveau.

Miller answered no, advising that the other instructor he used to work with was involved in a car accident and the amount of time required of him, then, became too much. “I tried to carry it for a year and a half, and it’s just too hard.”

He told the authority that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has come out with new regulations where anybody who wishes to acquire a commercial driver’s license after Feb. 7, 2020 must attend a certified school.

“My goal is for this thing to grow. I intend to have more than one licensed instructor,” Miller said.

He added that Gary Oil Company is also expanding, and he believes the ultimate goal of the program is for the company to eventually train its own people.

OWAA member Mike Munson asked if there were any qualms about the proposed use from either the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or Michigan Department of Transportation-Aeronautics (MDOT-Aero).

Kellan noted that the land is outside of the aircraft movement area, and is zoned industrial.

He has talked with the Iosco County Road Commission manager – as a portion of the property involves a county-owned road – and the managers of the nearby jet engine test cell facility. According to Kellan, both of these entities have responded with no concerns for the proposed location.

He also pointed out that there is another building on the site, which is deteriorating and is in significantly poor condition. “And what Gary Oil Company is offering to do is remove this building for us, dispose of it properly, and then they will install a parking area, right in this area, for their trucks.”

He added that the proposed training facility itself is also in bad shape, so there’s going to be a fair amount of repair and improvement carried out by Gary Oil, including new exterior paint.

“What would be the lease?” asked Oscoda Township’s OWAA representative, Aaron Weed.

“Two years,” Kellan answered. “And the lease rate would be, for the building, $350 a month, and the pavement area $150 a month during the first two years.”

“Since this deals with land use, has it been through the planning board?” Weed questioned.

“It hasn’t been through the planning board,” Kellan responded, noting that the company is not going to expand upon the building.

Weed said he thinks OWAA would need something from the planning board in order to make that decision.

“Typically we’ve brought real estate deals to the airport board but, whenever there’s any type of modifications or changes to properties, those usually go through the planning commission first,” said Kellan.

Weed maintained that there are processes which must be followed, especially when the land is zoned.

“Are you within the principal uses of the zone?” asked OWAA attorney Rob Eppert, who was there to take part in a closed session with the authority, later in the meeting.

“As a training facility, yes, I believe so,” said Kellan. He added that he will confirm this, but he reiterated that this use has been allowed at OWA in the past.

Eppert suggested checking on what is required for the mandatory issue of a site plan. “Because if that’s a mandatory item, then it will have to go in front of our joint  zoning board.”

Kellan said that he will look into this item.

Miller assured OWAA that the  business wants to landscape the property and make it very presentable. “We want people to want to come.”

Munson said one issue OWA  faces on a daily basis are concerns about noise.

“And I’m assuming this area is going to be low speed type of operations?” he asked, which was confirmed by Miller.

When discussing the action to take that day, OWAA member and Iosco County Commissioner Rob Huebel said that he would give Kellan the leeway, if he feels comfortable, to forge ahead.

Weed contended that it needs to go in front of the airport planning board as a land use.

Kellan suggested making the approval contingent upon satisfying the zoning requirements.

“We’ll get the zoning board approval and, if for some reason they were to reject it, then it’s dead in the water,” he said.

Kellan explained that, at this point, he was basically seeking authorization to move it forward from a business deal perspective.

OWAA member and Greenbush Township representative Dave Dailey said the motion should read that OWAA approves this, contingent upon approval of same by the planning commission.

A motion was made to this effect which passed in a 6-1 vote, with Weed opposed.

While he and other OWAA members said they liked the idea of a truck driving school, “My no vote is because there’s a process that needs to be followed,” he explained.

In separate action, a 7-0 vote was cast for Kellan to transmit the proposed Airport Capital Improvement Plans (ACIP) to the FAA and MDOT-Aero. The five-year ACIP is for fiscal years 2020-2024.

The ACIP is updated annually, in order for OWA to be eligible for grant funds from the two above mentioned entities.

Kellan advised that the ACIP will be discussed during an annual planning meeting later this month. Sometimes during these meetings, the talks result in changes being recommended in the plan. If there are changes to be made, Kellan will bring them back to the board before the report is finalized.

The list of proposed projects, he said, totals more than $26 million. However, OWAA typically competes for discretionary funding from MDOT-Aero and the FAA. If successful in doing so, OWAA’s share of the project costs would be just over $1 million in the next five years.

“So, basically a little over $200,000 a year, on average, would be what we would have to contribute in order to leverage those grant funds,” Kellan said.

If certain projects are not funded they will be pushed out to a later date, unless absolutely necessary, at which point the issue would be addressed by OWAA.

In other matters, the authority entered into closed session to discuss attorney-client privileged correspondence, dated Oct. 2, regarding a spaceport operation. (See separate story for more information on the Michigan Launch Initiative site visit in Oscoda, which is related to this topic).

In other business, OWAA scheduled a special meeting for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24. It will be held in the conference room of the airport administrative office, located at 3961 E. Airport Dr. The purpose will be to review the bids and award a contract to replace the roof on one of the OWA hangars, Building No. 6.

Timing is a factor, with Kellan saying that the bids are due Oct. 23, and staff is looking to get this work completed before winter.