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County commission has no plans to discuss proposed military expansion

Chandler Cruttenden

Commissioners in Michigan’s thumb say they have no plans to endorse or push back against a federal proposal that would create more noise from enhanced military jet activity in the region.

Three Huron county commissioners told WCMU that a public discussion or resolution on the proposed modifications and expansion of the Alpena Special Use Airspace will make no difference on the federal government’s final decision on the proposal, which is likely to come this August.

“The Huron county commissioners have no control over the air,” said commissioner Todd Talaski.

The proposal would modify how low fighter jets can fly in counties along the Lake Huron shoreline and northern lower Michigan.

The airspace stretches as far north as Rogers City and goes as far south as the tip of the thumb. If approved, planes would be able to fly as low as 300-500 feet in various parts of the region.

Residents of Huron county have voiced opposition to the plan because of the potential noise levels fighter jets will make and say it will negatively impact the thumb's tourism economy.

According to Mary Babcock, one of the Huron county commissioners, many of her constituents support the expansion of the airspace.

Babcock told WCMU the noise levels will only be temporary and aren’t a cause of concern.

“It only lasts seconds,” said Babcock, “we listen to motorcycles, loud mufflers, semis. This is a farming area. There is farming equipment. There are a lot of things that have loud dBAs in our area…they last much longer than a plane going overhead.”

The Michigan Air National Guard’s environmental assessment writes that certain jets passing through the thumb could be as loud as 115 dBA. According to the assessment, that’s slightly lower than an air raid siren, which is around 120 dBA. A passing car generates 60-70 dBA, the report added.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 1972 report on noise indicates that communication is “impossible” when dBA levels reach above 90.

“And it's a big difference. There's no doubt,” said commissioner Michael Meissner, who said he doesn’t know how he would vote on an Alpena Special Use Airspace resolution.

“There's pros and cons on it. I'm not against the military,” said Meissner. “Our military has to be prepared.”

On March 28, Huron county commissioners voted on a resolution regarding the Michigan National Guard’s proposed expansion to double the size of Camp Grayling, the nation’s largest National Guard training facility.

The Huron Daily Tribune reported the commissioners vote didn’t pass due to a technicality. Three of the four commissioners present at the meeting voted to oppose the expansion.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources ultimately denied the request for the expansion in late April.

When Babcock was asked why the commission voted on a resolution regarding the Camp Grayling expansion, which wouldn’t have directly expanded into Huron county, Babcock said the Camp Grayling issue is different when compared to the Michigan Air National Guard’s proposal.

“They [Camp Grayling] already had enough land to do what they needed to do,” said Babcock. “It seemed pointless.”

Babcock noted that pressure from multiple statewide associations, like the Michigan Association of Counties and Michigan Township Association, can have more of an influence on state issues. But the commissioners influence on federal matters like the Alpena Special Use Airspace, Babcock said, have little to no impact.

The Huron Daily Tribune reported that commissioner Joe Murphy cited concerns over the Camp Grayling expansion due to many Huron county residents having second homes in the Camp Grayling expansion area and that residents also use the land for recreation.

Meissner told WCMU that he’s had people in the five townships he represents in Huron county call and tell him that the Alpena Special Use Airspace modifications should be approved. And there is another handful of people, according to Meissner, that don’t have any opinion on the proposal.

Babcock said if a resolution came to a vote today, she would support of the proposal. Her decision, she said, is rooted in the number of people in the county who’ve reached out to her voicing their support for the plan.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.