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Paynesville Press - February 13, 2002

Airport commission mulls "negotiations"

By Michael Jacobson

Armed, now, with the power to acquire land for the new airport, the Paynesville Regional Airport Commission will first focus on soothing relations with the landowners whose property is needed for a new airport.

Part of the landowners' frustration, the commission members said, in a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the aftermath of the decisions by the Paynesville City Council and the Paynesville Township Supervisors to give the commission authority to acquire land, is the regimented process that the commission has to use.

Because the Aeronautics Division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation is footing the majority of the bill, land acquisition has to follow state guidelines. And so, because the process is regimented and the commission can only pay what is deemed to be Fair Market Value, little "negotiations" that landowners expect during land sales has happened, commission members feel.

"Keep in mind that we use the word ‘negotiations' pretty loosely," said Steve Whitcomb, commission chairman. "All we've given (the land negotiator) to work with is the appraised value (of the properties)." So far an appraisal and a review appraisal have been done. At first, the average value of all the property needed for a new airport was around $1,000 per acre. After the review appraisal, that average value raised to $1,300 per acre. (These are not actual offers, only the average prices for the nearly 200 acres of land needed for a new airport west of town.)

Landowners have the right to choose an appraiser and have the land appraised again, but so far no landowner has done that. Part of the problem, commission members noted last week, was that the property owners were originally told that the state would pick up all the cost of that second appraisal, when in actuality, the state contributes only $500 towards it, meaning landowners would likely have to pay money out of pocket to have another appraisal done.

The commission's contracted land negotiator is writing a letter to all the landowners to review the land acquisition process with them and outline their options, commission members were told last week.

"If they're not happy with our price, then they better get another appraisal so we have something to work with," said Dave Peschong, who represents the city council on the airport commission.

Commission members expressed support for buying the needed land, but they also discussed their options for condemnation if that route becomes necessary. "We want to buy the land," said Peschong. "That's our hope. We've always hoped (condemnation) is a last resort."

City attorney Bill Spooner explained the two options for condemnation to the airport commission last week. First is eminent domain, where the land price is negotiated first and the airport commission would pay at the end, and possibly could walk away if the price were too high. This process takes longer to gain title to the land, but the final price is known.

In a quik take, the airport commission would gain title sooner, but would be obliged to pay a deposit when getting the title and to pay whatever price is finally decided by the court at the end. In this process, deciding on the price can take just as long, but the airport commission would gain title to the needed land in a few months.

Either way, negotiations could continue until the case reaches the court, and for landowners unsatisfied with the appraised-value prices, condemnation offers a chance for them to argue their side in court, the commission members noted.

Last week, the commission members stated that they intend to warn the landowners before starting condemnation procedures.

They also recommended using the quik take method if condemnation is needed.

That decision will be explained to the city council tonight. The decision to use the quik take does not affect the township because their total contribution to the project is limited to $200,000, meaning the city would end up paying if the price for quik take ended up being higher than expected.

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