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Paynesville Press - April 17, 2002

Airport commission remains pro-airport

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Regional Airport Commission remains in control of pro-airport members.

The commission - which is overseeing a joint project between the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township to build a new airport on the west side of town - held its first meeting with new representatives from Paynesville Township on Wednesday, April 10.

New township representatives - supervisor John Atwood and resident Ed McIntee - attended their first commission meeting last week, looking to propose a new at-large member to the commission.

According to the joint powers agreement on the airport, the city and township representatives to the airport commission jointly appoint the fifth, at-large member of the commission. The joint powers agreement does not contain any way to break a 2-2 tie over the at-large appointment, but it also does not include a specific time when that appointment needs to be made each year.

The meeting last week started as usual. Then Atwood and McIntee raised the issue of the appointing the at-large member 15 minutes or so into the meeting. Atwood suggested that appointing the at-large member should be put on the meeting agenda under new business.

Holdovers on the commission - Dave Peschong, representing the city council, chairman Steve Whitcomb, representing the city, and Bert Stanley, at-large member - maintained that Stanley had been reappointed as the vice chairman of the airport commission in February. To them, this indicated that his appointment for the year had already been made.

Atwood and McIntee said the township had a right to have influence on the appointment.

"You did," responded Whitcomb, "in February."

Peschong then asked if they objected to Stanley as the at-large member, and McIntee said, "We want to put a new man on."

"I would object to being dropped when I've been appointed as vice chair for the year," said Stanley.

The answer as to when the at-large appointment needs to be made is not in black and white in the Joint Powers Agreement, according to city administrator Steve Helget. "The agreement does not spell it out. That's the bottom line," he said.

When rewriting the Joint Powers Agreement was suggested as a remedy, Atwood protested, "That was signed by the township."

"It's going to be a problem, guys. How are we going to solve it?" asked Peschong.

"We have to get the interpretation of the attorney of what is already written," answered Atwood.

So the commission waited while Helget called city attorney Bill Spooner.

Peschong and Whitcomb invited Atwood and McIntee to make a motion to appoint a new at-large member to the commission, but this motion would have failed on a 2-2 vote, leaving Stanley on the commission, in the view of the airport supporters.

Spooner's understanding of the agreement, reported to the commission by Helget, echoed Helget's own. Atwood said the township would have to have their attorney review the agreement. McIntee had already suggested bringing the matter to the attorney general's office.

Peschong called rushing to the attorney general's office "premature." "I realize you've done that before," he said, "but that's not the place to start."

Barring a definitive legal decision that Stanley is not a member of the commission, the appointment of the at-large member, which would likely deadlock in a 2-2 vote, has been put off until next winter.

That means the supporters of the proposed airport still have a 3-2 majority on the commission. They may have enough time to get construction on the airport started before needing to appoint the crucial at-large member of the commission again.

The commission was informed last week that its attorney intended to file for quik take ( a form of eminent domain) within 30 or 40 days. The commission would then have ownership in another 100 days (though figuring the price in court would last longer).

A tentative construction schedule, according to the commission's engineer, would have the final design done by July, the plans and specifications done by the end of August, bid opening by the end of September, and the start of construction in October. This plan has the dirt work being done this fall, with the final paving of the airstrip to be completed next spring.

After the township election in March - when Pat Meagher, who opposes the current airport plan, unseated incumbent Warren Nehring, who supports the plan - the township's representatives to the commission were changed.

Atwood, who favors an airport location by Roscoe, replaced board chairman Don Pietsch, who supports the airport plan, on the commission. Then, on a 2-1 vote, with Meagher and Atwood in support, McIntee replaced pilot Steve Brown as the second township representative on the commission.

Last week, Brown was appointed by the commission as its pilot advisor. He will be a nonvoting member of the commission to help with technical details.

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