Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - April 3, 2002

Township appointees oppose current airport plan

By Michael Jacobson

The balance of power has shifted in Paynesville Township regarding the current airport proposal, and the first evidence is the new slate of township representatives to the Paynesville Regional Airport Commission.

With Pat Meagher replacing Warren Nehring on the board of supervisors, a majority on the township board now opposes the airport proposal, and Meagher and supervisor John Atwood have replaced pro-airport representatives on the airport commission.

The board of supervisors approved having Atwood replace board chairman Don Pietsch as the board's representative on the airport commission at their organizational meeting on Thursday, March 14. At that meeting, Ed McIntee was also put forward as the township's citizen representative, but a decision was tabled until the board's next regular meeting, on Monday, March 25.

After some debate on Monday and some concerns from township residents who questioned the appointment of McIntee were aired, McIntee, who also opposes the airport, was appointed on a 2-1 vote, with Meagher and Atwood supporting his appointment and Pietsch opposing it.

"My feeling is that the people will be served," said Meagher of McIntee's appointment, in response to a question from the audience. "There's a lot of opposition (to the airport plan), and I think it hasn't been heard," he added.

"I do feel the people should have a view from the different side of the coin," said McIntee when asked at the meeting about his appointment and views on the airport.

Before voting, Atwood said if people knew McIntee as well as he did they would support his appointment to the airport commission.

McIntee, who placed third behind Meagher and Nehring in the recent supervisor race, will replace township resident Steve Brown on the airport commission. Brown, who is also a pilot, supports the airport.

"I definitely would like to continue to serve the township in this manner," said Brown before the vote was made to appoint McIntee. "I appreciate the support here tonight, and I want to continue."

The move leaves the airport commission deeply divided, with the city's two representatives - council member Dave Peschong and public member Steve Whitcomb - in support of the airport plan, and Atwood and McIntee against it.

The Joint Powers Agreement for the airport between the city and township did not anticipate such a division between the two entities. The now decisive fifth member of the commission is supposed to be chosen by the representatives from the city council (Peschong) and the board of supervisors (Atwood). At present, if they can't agree on a fifth member, there's no provision to break a tie to appoint the now decisive fifth member.

The Paynesville City Council reacted quickly to the moves by township board. On Wednesday, March 27, the council approved a resolution revising the Joint Powers Agreement.

First, the council requested that the airport commission look at establishing overlapping terms for its members to keep consistency on the commission.

Second, it proposed amending the Joint Powers Agreement to include a tie-breaking procedure if a fifth member can't be agreed upon by the city council and township representatives. The council's solution to breaking the tie would be to have both the city council and township board vote on a fifth member, with total votes deciding the appointment. The airport commission holds its next regular meeting on Wednesday, April 10.

Crowd shift
The shoe is now on the other foot, so to speak. For months, years really, critics of township support for the airport have attended board meetings to air their views to a board that voted in favor of the airport, behind Nehring and Pietsch.

With the shift in power regarding the airport on the township board, township residents in support of the airport now attended the meeting to question the appointment of McIntee and argue for the airport, exactly the opposite of what had happened at township meetings prior to the recent election.

"Now they show up," said Eddie Lang, a frequent critic of township board policies in the past, on the residents supporting the airport attending the meeting. "But where we're you two months ago for the public domain hearings?"

Meagher suggested to crowd members in support of the airport that they could go to the airport commission meetings to express that support. "I certainly hope they listen to you as well as they listened to us," he said sarcastically.

"I think your interpretation of not listening is not getting your way," countered Pietsch.

The questioning from the audience was led by Kathee Martinson, Brown's sister, who thought commission appointments should continue until the project was completed and worried that her views would not be represented by the new township board.

She asked the board to continue to support Brown and to reconsider replacing Pietsch on the airport commission with Atwood.

Martinson wondered why the board would appoint people that do not support the airport to a commission dedicated to building one.

"I'm not against an airport," responded Atwood, who repeatedly spoke of Roscoe as a better airport site. "I'm against the location because I believe the School District #741 comes first. I think the location is wrong."

City of Paynesville Mayor Jeff Thompson, though, cited documents that he said showed that Atwood represented the township on the original adhoc committee that chose the site near Paynesville.

Considerable discussion centered on the location of the airport proposal, with several township residents speaking in favor of the current plan, which locates the airport close to the west end of town, just slightly to the west of the present airport location.

The proposed location is intentionally close to town in order to make the community as accessible as possible for visiting pilots.

Thompson also brought a 1982 study that identified the site for a new airport in the same location.

"I think these things have been studied in the last 20 years about where to put an airport," said township resident Leo Louis, who believes a new airport will attract a major commercial endeavor to the community, creating jobs.

"They (the airport commission) seem to come back to the same location," agreed Paul Bugbee, another township resident, "and I trust their judgment."

"For me, I'm hoping it's a done deal," he added. "I think it's a great thing for the community."

One concern for opponents of the current plan is building restrictions to the school property across Highway 23. The school board has passed a resolution opposing the zoning for the new airport due to the restrictions it places on school land, including the driving range, which is leased to the golf course.

"That property is absolutely no use to us," said school board member and township resident Deb Glenz at the meeting last week.

"I'm thinking there are other options for the school," countered Bugbee, who helped organize the recent fund-raising campaign for the school, "and I think we shouldn't let that hold us up."

Atwood said that the property proposed for the airport would be better used for housing.

Pietsch asked Meagher and Atwood to compromise on the appointment, to consider candidates other than McIntee and Brown whom all three supervisors could support. Pietsch suggested Bill Henderson Jr., Johnnie Olson, and Lew Storkamp as possible alternatives. "I've heard ten times how we're going to work together as a group," he said.

When Atwood pointed out that the board has had 2-1 votes in favor of the airport before, Pietsch responded that he hoped it wasn't payback time now.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community