100-yard strip for remote-controlled airplanes at lake could cost thousands
Would county commissioners spend $35,000 to install a hard-surface runway for remote-controlled airplanes over the world record marshmallow roast burn pit at the county lake?
“It’s just common sense that this commission doesn’t do $35,000 for something like that,” Commissioner Randy Dallke said last week.
But a barren strip of earth about 100 yards long and 50 feet wide, bladed by county crews, now spans a stretch where 1,272 people with marshmallows on sticks once braved searing heat to set a world record.
The space is being prepped for a synthetic surface runway for RC airplane enthusiasts, Commissioner Dianne Novak said at a May 8 commission meeting, based on a phone conversation she had with Lin Slifer, a county lake resident.
“He said to me that the board approved last year for us to build a runway for people who use these model airplanes,” Novak said. “He said special material needs to be laid, a base has to be made, etc. Supposedly the material has already been purchased and is supposedly laying somewhere. I asked him how much is that going to cost and he said right at $35,000, he would guess.”
That guess included the cost of hiring an outside contractor to do the work, Novak said.
Novak searched past meeting minutes to confirm that last August, commissioners Dan Holub and Dallke approved a proposal by lake superintendent Steve Hudson for a mowed grass airstrip, but found no reference to a hard-surface strip.
Dallke said he’d driven by the site and noticed the excavation, but didn’t know what it was for until he talked with road and bridge superintendent Jesse Hamm.
“I said I didn’t know we were going to do any more (than mow), that’s why when you said this $35,000 or so, I didn’t know we were going to put any landing or anything like that, period,” Dallke said. “We were going to mow a strip; I forgot it until I saw that graded area.”
Commissioner Kent Becker was disturbed that the site had been graded.
“I’m surprised somebody from the lake hasn’t brought this up,” he said. “Nobody lives there, but they’re all around it. We’re talking about an area being damaged at the county lake. The native grass is gone. If we have to put that back we’ve already got quite a bit of cost.”
While Dallke said he would call Hamm to put a stop to any more work, Novak got on the phone, too, talking with Hudson, Slifer, and Marty Dalke of Dalke Construction, the firm Slifer recommended for the installation.
“When we make promises to people, I expect them to be done,” Novak said. “That’s how I started to pursue this. Then cost came up, and now it’s a quagmire. Hearing what I’m hearing now, when you push a pencil with things we know, it’s just not adding up.”
Novak said Hudson confirmed that the original plan called for a grass strip.
“I did have a private conversation with Steve; he insists that all he ever agreed upon was a mowed strip,” she said.
But Novak said she was puzzled by the fact that materials to go over a prepared base had already been purchased.
Clerk Tina Spencer confirmed a $1,930 expenditure to U.S. Fabrics, coded as “Park LDSTRP,” was made from a donated funds account in December.
“That was made through memorial gifts or donations, not tax money,” Spencer said.
Novak reported having several phone conversations with Slifer in the past week. He reiterated the need for a private contractor to do the work, she said.
“He’s a very knowledgeable person on this,” Novak said. “He’s the one that from the start provided me with the details, and all of a sudden no one wants to own up to the dollars. As soon as I tried to nail something down to a fact, he wants to dance around it.”
Novak asked Marty Dalke for an “off the top of your head” estimate, although Dalke had not seen the location or received specific information about the project.
Based on Dalke’s best guesses for manpower, materials, and equipment, Novak said she calculated the project could cost at least $18,000 to complete.
Novak said she wanted to make arrangements to have Slifer and Hudson at the next commission meeting to explain the project and answer questions.
“It’s such a mystery and very confusing,” Novak said.
Slifer declined to comment on the situation beyond clarifying that the airstrip is a county project.
“It can’t be my project, I don’t even own the property,” he said. “It was my idea presented to Steve, he took it to the commission and they approved the idea for additional recreational purposes for the county lake.”
Hudson did not return multiple calls asking for comment.