Airport agreement nears between city and township

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 4/05/00.

The signing of a joint powers agreement by the supervisors of Paynesville Township has not finalized an agreement on an airport commission between the city and the township. Presently, the city and the township have each passed a version of the joint powers agreement, but they differ by 12 months and by one key phrase in the eyes of the township.

The city passed a version of the joint powers agreement last March, and expected the township to sign but annexation issues got in the way. A zoning map indicated large areas of the township, based on population density and development potential, as ripe for annexation.

The possible loss of significant areas of annexation led to a year of negotiation and dozens of revisions of the orderly annexation agreement, whose final draft included only areas adjoining the city. Once the orderly annexation agreement was passed by the city council two weeks ago and then by the township board last Monday night, March 27, the stage was set for the joint powers agreement for the airport.

The township board also approved the new version of the airport joint powers at their March 27 meeting. (See the township story covering that meeting on page 1.)

Should the city council rescind the version of the agreement they passed a year ago, as expected, then they could pass an exact replica of the township version and a joint powers agreement would take effect.

"It's exciting to see all this come together," said city administrator Denny Wilde. "It was really disappointing a year ago when the airport crashed."

Steve Whitcomb, who chaired the ad hoc committee that started the research for a new airport four years ago, noted that an agreement was not in place yet, but called the township's approval of a joint powers agreement "a huge step."

Origins of an airport
The airport started in 1946 when the Paynesville Village Council bought 91 acres of land on the west end of town. Originally, that airport had three runways, but only the one running from northwest to southeast remains.

In 1981, the city investigated improving the airport and conducted a study. Their proposed layout was much the same as the current plan, with the airport runway moved slightly to the west and rotated to a more east-west tilt.

In 1982, the airport was removed from the public airport system due to its short runway. The current turf runway in only 2,300 feet and has obstacles on both ends. Whitcomb said the current runway has an effective length of only 1,800 feet. To the northwest are the trees on the banks of the North Fork Crow River and to the southeast is Highway 23. "With those obstructions," said Wilde, "it's impossible to expand the airport at its present site."

Once the airport was removed from the public system, the city operated it under a private license. "The same license that someone would have in their alfalfa field," said Wilde. The airport was not listed on aviation charts, and was primarily used by local traffic and pilots familiar with the strip. Occasionally, visiting pilots would call seeking permission to use the airport.

Since then, the city has explored other airport sites, including one near Roscoe that would have been operated jointly with the city of Cold Spring. Whitcomb and Wilde credited former mayor Joe Voss with turning the focus back on building a new airport near Paynesville.

Ad hoc committee
The ad hoc committee was established by the city and the township to explore the need for a new airport and its feasibility. Wilde served with Whitcomb on that committee. Also involved were Dave Peschong and Dennis Zimmerman from the city, Don Pietsch from the township, and Phil Bailey and Lew Storkamp.

By 1997, the airport was designated a planning airport and reinstated to the state system. Since then, an airport layout plan and an Environmental Assessment Work-sheet have been completed.

Currently, work is being done on a zoning plan for the area around the proposed airport. The zoning plan centers on the need to keep the runway approaches clear of obstructions and mainly involves limitations on height of structures. A two-story house or giant silo at the end of a runway obviously would interfere with planes.

A zoning board for the airport has been established with Pat and Dallas Fenske representing Roseville Township; Joe Speldrich and Steve Brown representing Paynesville Township; Audrey Olmscheid, Steve Whitcomb, and Phil Bailey representing the city of Paynesville; Don Adams and Jack Wimmer representing Stearns County Environmental Services; and Harlow Olson of Irving Township representing Kandiyohi County.

Once the agreement between the city and the township is finalized, a joint powers commission will be formed to acquire property, construct, equip, and operate the airport. Representing the city on this commission will be Whitcomb and Peschong; representing the township will be Pietsch and Steve Brown. Bert Stanley has been selected as the at-large member. Peschong also represents the city council on the commission, while Pietsch represents the township.

This commission effectively will have the power to run the airport.

The proposed agreement
The aspect of the proposed agreement that raised the most opposition at the township meeting was the splitting of costs equally by the city and township for the construction and maintenance of the airport. Supervisor John Atwood argued at the township meeting that the township should pay for no more than 35 percent of the costs.

Pietsch, who helped negotiate the proposed agreement, said that unequal contributions would have left the township as a junior partner. "If we did anything less than 50-50, then we'd have unequal representation," he explained, adding that such an arrangement would have made it essentially a city airport with township funding.

For Pietsch, the most important clause in the proposed agreement was where the city and township agree to use the assessed valuation when the agreement is signed as a basis for contributions. Any changes to the assessed valuations by annexation to the city or detachments to the township will affect the 50-50 cost split.

The original agreement contained a similar clause, Pietsch said, but the basis would have been when the airport was complete. Even in a best case scenario, the airport will take more than a year from now to complete. "An awful lot of annexation could take place by the time the airport is completed," Pietsch said.

Airport layout
The proposed airport would utilize a 3,700 foot turf runway, with lights, until a 4,000 paved runway could be built. The turf runway would be cheaper to build originally, but could be limited to three seasons of use in a wet spring.

The proposed runway site is west of the current site. (See the map on page 2.) The ends of the runway are about 2,200 feet west of Highway 23 and 2,500 feet east of the Kandiyohi County line.

The hangars, departure building, and access road for the airport would still be located along Cemetary Road, but would be a half mile or so west of the present location. Though the runway and buildings will only occupy a portion of the land, the plan calls for the purchase of over 200 acres for the airport. That way entire parcels can be bought, instead of dividing the land into irregular shapes. Most of the acreage should still be available for farming.

The cost for the turf runway, the apron and taxiway, the access road, the land acquisition, the hanger, and other items is estimated at $1,257,300. The state should pay for the first $200,000 in construction costs and 60 percent of most costs after that. The local share of building the airport is estimated at just over $400,000, meaning the city and township would each be responsible for $200,000.

The state would also contribute to the airport's maintenance each year, up to $3,500 for a turf runway and up to $8,500 for a paved runway. Operation costs at the airport are expected to run as high as $20,000 per year. The local share would also be split by the city and the township. The proposed airport was designed by Short Elliott Hendricks, which is the city's engineering firm.

Once the joint powers agreement and the zoning is finalized, the next step this spring would be land acquisition, hopefully through negotiations with the landowners. Land for the airport could be acquired by right of eminent domain.

The funding for the project from the Minnesota Department of Transportation should be included in MnDot's 2001 fiscal year, which starts in July. In a best-case scenario, final construction plans could be completed this fall, bids could be let next winter, and actual construction on the runway could start next spring. airport layout

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