Airport proceeds with land negotiations

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 4/25/01.

The Paynesville Regional Airport Commission approved moving forward with negotiations to purchase land at their meeting on Wednesday, April 18, but not until the representatives from the city and township agreed to talk and discuss altering the joint powers agreement.

Around 210 acres of land would need to be purchased if a new airport is built on a site slightly to the west of the current city runway.

The preliminary appraisals were received by the commission a week ago. These will now be shared with the affected property owners by representatives of SEH, the city's engineering firm that has been doing the design and leg work on the airport proposal.

If the landowner reaches an agreement on the price with the SEH representative, a deal can be made. If the landowner disputes the price, he or she can ask for another appraisal, which will also be done at the commission's expense.

Should land still be unable to be purchased, the commission and the Aeronautics Division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a partner in the project, would need to resort to court proceedings to acquire the land.

The vote to move forward with land negotiations was unanimous, but it came after Dave Peschong, representing the Paynesville City Council, and Don Pietsch, representing Paynesville Township, agreed to meet and discuss altering the joint powers agreement. Currently the agreement calls for equal representation on the board from each entity, and a 50-50 split in covering the local share of the project.

MnDOT pays for the first $200,000 of construction and 60 percent of the costs after that, meaning the city and township would split the remaining 40 percent, or 20 percent apiece. MnDOT also pays for 60 percent of maintenance, Steve Whitcomb, commission chairman said.

The financing problem hinges on the possibility of the project exceeding their original cost estimates. Pietsch admitted that the township joined the joint powers agreement with a 50-50 agreement but said the township view has always been a cost estimate of $200,000 for the project. The township can't afford much more than that without a levy, said Pietsch, who has used that figure as the township's commitment to the project.

For the best interests of the airport, Pietsch said he could vote to go forward with land negotiations, but he warned that the township needed some protection to the final cost. "I'm uncomfortable to make a decision to go purchase land and not have a solution, not have a cap on the township's share," he said.

A revised agreement between the city and township was approved at the township board meeting on Monday night. In it the township would contribute a maximum of $200,000 to construction but keep its full representation on the airport commission. Maintenance costs will be paid in the same proportion as construction costs.

Right now, the airport commission only has estimates about the cost of the project, a position that led visitor Mike Meagher, a township resident, wondering if the project was being pursued blindly or if it would be pursued at any cost.

"For a project like this," responded Whitcomb, "we have no way of knowing if the estimates are correct until the bids come in."

An earlier estimate for airport construction was around $1.2 million, which meant a local share of $400,000 to be split between the city and township.

While the land for the airport might be more than expected and the runway might be paved instead of grass, which could cause the costs to rise, the airport commission has already deferred on some other aspects, like the elimination of an arrival and departures building. A reason to move forward with land negotiations, said commission member Steve Brown, is to find out what land will actually cost to purchase, versus what it is estimated to cost.

The price of land ($1,081) listed in last week's story on the appraisals was the average cost of one acre of land. This is not the value of individual parcels, which the Press is not privy to. Each parcel was appraised on an individual basis, which will now be shared with the property owners and used as a potential basis for a purchase by the airport commission.

The total of the appraised land was $227,000, which was reported at the commission meeting on Wednesday, April 11. This total is slightly higher than the $199,500 originally estimated for land purchase.

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