DARKE COUNTY — Planned improvements to the Darke County Airport and its surrounding roads have been a controversial topic since they were first proposed. In particular, the closure of a portion of Old State Route 242 lying west of the airport’s runway has provoked contention recently, with residents showing up to protest at a viewing of the soon-to-be-abandoned portion of road by County Commissioners on November 6.
Closure of the 1,105-foot section of 242 stretching north from its intersection with Chase and Horner Road was formally announced by commissioners at their bi-weekly meeting November 8.
According to County Engineer Jim Surber, who maintains bridges and roadways throughout the county that do not fall under city or township jurisdiction, County Commissioners entered into an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) several years ago in which portions of State Route 242 near the airport passed from state to county control. In addition, the county received approximately $800,000 from ODOT to be put toward improving portions of the roadway.
“The state wanted to get rid of that road so bad they not only gave it up, but gave the county $800,000 to improve it,” Surber said.
According to Surber, most of those funds were used to improve portions of 242 between U.S. 127 and Chase Road and between Plessinger Road and State Route 121, improvements intended to make it feasible for the section west of the runway to be abandoned. The rationale for abandoning this portion of road is that it will give the airport approximately 300 additional feet of usable runway – runway that already exists, but has been unable to be used until recently because of the proximity of the nearby road.
Several residents have objected to the plan, including Judy York, whose property lies just north of the now closed portion of 242.
“All of us who have a concern about this have been lumped together as idiots who don’t understand how government works,” York said.
According to York, plans initially called for the creation of a cul de sac at the spot near her property where the open portion of the road now terminates. Instead, a smaller turnaround requiring vehicles to pull in and then back out again was put in place. York felt this would not only create a noise issue, with vehicles potentially pulling in and out at all hours of the day, but might also put a portion of fence on her property in danger of being hit.
“I didn’t choose to live at the end of a dead-end road,” York said. “But ultimately they’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
Former Richland Township trustee Ted Mangen also took issue with the county’s handling of these issues, saying he felt there was little point arguing or trying to get answers from commissioners. Affected portions of State Route 242 and Chase Road lie within Richland Township, as does part of the airport itself.
“I just feel my opinion would fall on deaf ears,” Mangen said. “The commissioners don’t want to listen to anyone’s opinion that is different from theirs.”
Mangen alleged that when township trustees declined to sign off on the initial agreement with ODOT, the agreement was rewritten so that their signatures were no longer needed.
County Commissioner Mike Rhoades claimed this was untrue.
“The townships were never involved in any decisions,” Rhoades said. “It’s not true. Any of it.”
Engineer Surber told a different story, however.
“I know there was controversy over the original agreement, and they took the townships off,” Surber said.
Ultimately, Surber felt those opposed to the airport improvements and 242 closure had a number of different motives.
“They don’t like it because they don’t want planes flying over their house,” Surber said. “They don’t like it because they think it’s a waste of money. Or because they think they’re going to be inconvenienced if any road is closed.”
Mangen, however, drew parallels between the airport project and other recent measures by the county government that have met with controversy, including the failed MARCS levy.
“I see that their new tax idea didn’t pass,” Mangen said. “I wonder if they put this airport issue on a ballot, what kind of support would it get?”