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Fletcher: Alpena commissioners took a courageous step for airport

August 14, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

As you have noticed, I pick the easy, low hanging fruit first with my columns.

I am continually carping and complaining about all levels of government and their respective ineptitude. Man, it's easy! There is so much boondoggle in government that topics for the last 160 weeks or so have been easy pickings.

Today is different, as this column is about something done well by local government.

Some months ago Lyle VanWormer, the chair of the county finance board, was reading some material which had come across his desk. The message was about how consultants could help job development around airports. The light bulb went on and he talked to county board Chairman Cam Habermehl, who pulled in Tom Mullany, chair of the airport committee.

My informants are a little hazy at this point, but apparently the airport committee had been investigating development opportunities anyway at this point. Everyone agreed the hiring of a consultant made sense.

And so it happened. The consultant knew about drone research and development opportunities, and work for Alpena began. There is at least one competing facility in the desert southwest, but obviously it doesn't have four seasons like Alpena, which would be beneficial in drone testing.

Another important factor in site selection will be available radio bandwidth.

The less potential band width interference that could impact the control of the drones, the better for the site selection criteria. We have lots of available bandwidth for a project of this magnitude.

It's also good that we have a large amount of "controlled airspace" thanks to the huge Military Operations Areas out over Lake Huron and Camp Grayling. Even better, there is an air to ground gunnery range at Camp Grayling so the military component of the drone research could occur there.

What? Aren't all drones used by the military? Heck no. The largest potential for drones is in the private commercial segment for tasks like mapping and mineral exploration. I can think of search and rescue applications and traffic flow analysis, just to name two other possibilities.

Surveillance for police agencies and weather research also come to mind.

The best part is that manufacturing facilities often follow R&D facilities.

There are going to be six designations approved, with 30 states competing for that honor. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek already are in the loop, but you could help by motivating U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and other statewide elected officials. This is thinking way outside the box, but if you have friends and relatives in other states, would you ask them to contact their elected officials in Washington, D.C. to promote Alpena?

Let me be clear. Alpena commissioners took a huge risk in an election year by approving the hiring of this consultant, but they are getting very positive results from their investment. Now is the time for all of us to support them in charting a new direction for Alpena. Do you think that you can write a couple of notes to help?

The Alpena commissioners, with the consultant's hiring, took a courageous step. We always are talking about no leadership in government, but here was a case of just the opposite. It's our turn to join with them and say: "Job well started, how may I help?"

My hat is off to the commissioners.



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