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Company, Airport at Odds Over Proposed Trash Facility; Birds, FAA Certificate Among Concerns

Ben Meyer/WXPR

To Ryan Hanson, the proposal for a new building just west of Rhinelander just isn’t that complicated.

Credit Ryan Hanson/Lakeland Realty
A building similar to the one being proposed in the project.

“The actual transfer station is really nothing more than a pole building,” Hanson explained. “It’s a metal-sided, metal-roofed building with garage doors on one side, and then a handful of dumpsters.”

It would sit about 600 feet off of Highway 47, hidden by a buffer of trees from that road, Highway 8, and Highway K, which are all nearby.

Even so, the neighbors don’t like it.

“Yeah, people are going to be against it even if you check every box,” Hanson said. “But that’s not my job to address every single not-in-my-backyard issue.”

Credit Ryan Hanson/Lakeland Realty
A sketch of the location of the proposed waste transfer facility.

The plan has faced opposition because the proposal is for a waste transfer facility. It’s not a landfill, but a place where people and companies can bring trash to be shipped away, up to a total of 50 tons per day.

Hanson is a realtor representing JBM Howard, the company angling to operate it. He wants Oneida County to approve the plan over concerns of odor, litter, and noise.

“I don’t think it’s a close call because I don’t think there’s any substantial evidence to deny it,” he said.

Hanson appears to be right. Those reasons don’t appear to be enough for the county to legally deny a Conditional Use Permit.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A Delta flight takes off from the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

Instead, the strongest objection comes on different grounds.

Matthew Leitner, the director of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, calls the plan “a terrible proposal.”

The airport’s main runway is about 4,000 feet from the proposed site of the waste transfer station.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Birds circle over the Oneida County Landfill. Unlike the proposed facility, the landfill has significant unenclosed refuse material.

Waste sites near airports are potentially problematic because they often attract rodents, which are eaten by birds, and birds themselves. Too many birds near planes taking off and landing is a major safety hazard. About 50 planes come into and out of the airport daily.  

“I know for me, it’s a slam dunk. [This facility] has no business within 4,000 feet of the airport,” Leitner said.

On Wednesday, the waste transfer facility issue was on the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee’s agenda for the ninth straight meeting.

David Holperin manages a financial services company across Highway 47 from the proposed facility and opposes it. He told the committee the business would violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) code.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
David Holperin addresses the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee.

“The FAA will not allow an enclosed waste transfer facility to operate within the proscribed 10,000-foot zone if it is a trash transfer facility and it’s open on one or more sides or store uncovered quantities of municipal solid waste and other conditions,” Holperin said.

Holperin was referencing Section 2.2.4 of a FAA Advisory Circular on hazardous wildlife attractants on or near airports, found here.

Addressing the committee, Leitner foresaw a worst-case scenario.

“The first time a hapless bird makes contact with an airplane, the FAA is going to say, ‘why is there a putrescible waste transfer facility within 10,000 feet of your primary runways?’” Leitner said.

Leitner fears, in that case, the FAA could revoke the airport’s operating certificate, ask for $50 million in accumulated grant funding to be returned, and halt commercial planes from serving Rhinelander.

“I think the bottom line is this. We can’t move the airport. In my estimation, there are plenty of places to put this waste transfer facility,” he said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Ryan Hanson, who represents JBM Howard, the company seeking to open the waste transfer facility.

But realtor Ryan Hanson says he’s confident the proposed waste station will be safe, enclosed, and in compliance with FAA rules.

“This building is not a three-sided building. Yeah, it has an opening. If the building doesn’t have an opening, what good is it? But those openings are doors. They can open and close to allow the accepting of waste and then close,” Hanson said.

The waste company plans to hire a third-party qualified airport wildlife biologist to monitor animals at the facility, a move Hanson called “the ultimate check valve.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The Oneida County Planning and Development Committee considers the request for a Conditional Use Permit for the waste transfer facility.

Opponents still aren’t sold.

They’re worried about hazardous wildlife, potential crashes, and losing millions of dollars in funding and economic impact.

But Hanson thinks their concerns over a pole building and a handful of dumpsters go too far.

“I think people are just grasping at, trying to find little, tiny things and somehow twist it into something it’s not,” he said. “It’s just not a very big deal.”

On Wednesday, the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee once again put off a final decision on a conditional use permit. It’s waiting on more information from the FAA and state aeronautics officials. The committee will reconvene on July 28.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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