Road to close for plane landing
ALPENA — A first-in-the-nation event will take over an Alpena road on Thursday — and the public is not invited to watch, police say.
As roadside signs in Alpena have warned for more than a week, drivers will be kept off a portion of M-32 near the Alpena County Regional Airport so the Michigan Air National Guard and the Air Force can land aircraft on the road.
The five-hour event — part of Northern Strike military training exercises being held at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center through Aug. 14 — marks the first time that modern Air Force aircraft intentionally land on a civilian roadway on U.S. soil, according to CRTC Commander Col. James Rossi.
Police will block the stretch of M-32 from east of Herron Road to west of King Settlement Road beginning shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday. The landing exercise and cleanup will finish around 1 p.m., according to Michigan Air Guard officials.
Police and signs will detour traffic via M-32, Werth Road, U.S-23, and Ripley Boulevard during the event.
About 5,000 motorists use M-65 each day, according to James Lake, communications representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s northern region.
MDOT approved use of the road after a pavement analysis — using MDOT data and conducted by the Air National Guard — showed the road could withstand the weight of the four A-10 Thunderbolt jets and two C-146 carrier aircraft to be included in the exercise.
Though MDOT expects no damage to the road or roadside from the exercise, CRTC officials agreed to take responsibility for any such damage, whether immediately apparent or not, Lake said.
MDOT workers removed a few trees and mowed a wider swath than usual in preparation for the landings and will remove road signs shortly before the event.
Some residents around the landing site will lose power sporadically and should have already been notified of that potential, said Sgt. Shane Smith of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post, reminding those with children or special needs to plan ahead for the expected power outage.
Residents may be excited about the event and want to see the military planes descend on an Alpena road, but hopeful onlookers will be turned away at the roadblocks, Smith said.
People or vehicles near the landing site could pose danger to themselves or to military members, and nobody will be allowed past the established perimeters after 8 a.m., he cautioned.
Aircraft probably will not be visible from the blockades, especially since a strong law enforcement presence — representing the Michigan State Police, the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and military police — will block hopeful viewers’ sightlines, according to Smith.
Police will form protective outer and inner perimeters to keep the landing space secure, and DNR officers will watch for anyone trying to gain access through the woods.
“We obviously can’t have a plane hit a car,” Smith said. “It’s all about safety and making sure the base and the U.S. Air Force can accomplish the mission and do it safely.”
Photos and video of the event will be posted at TheAlpenaNews.com shortly after M-32 reopens on Thursday.