City and township agree on revised airport agreement

This article submitted by Micheal Jacobson on 5/2/01.

A revised airport joint powers agreement was passed by the Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors and by the Paynesville City Council last week on split votes.

The new annexation agreement limits the township's financial obligation to the airport to $200,000, but keeps them as a full representative partner in the project.

The city and township originally approved a joint powers agreement a year ago, based on equal representation on the airport commission and on paying an equal share of the construction and maintenance costs. The township was protected against annexation, with the city assuming more of the burden based on the value of land annexed from the township to the city.

The airport construction still only has estimates - a point that has drawn fire from critics wanting to know how much the project will cost and if it will be continued at all costs. The township can afford a $200,000 contribution to the airport, but would possibly need to levy for more, board supervisor Don Pietsch told the airport commission two weeks ago.

Such a vote would be highly controversial, based on the recent turnout and close margin of the township election, where Pietsch was re-elected by 18 votes.

"Our contribution will be limited to $200,000 with this addendum, and our percentage ownership will be based on our dollar contribution with the city. This same percentage will also apply to the maintenance of the airport after it is built," explained Pietsch at the township board meeting on Monday, April 23.

The votes for a revised joint powers agreement were identical to the original votes to form the partnership. In the township, Pietsch and Warren Nehring voted in favor, and John Atwood, citing the school's concerns, voted against. In the city, council member Harlan Beek voted against the change, while Dave Peschong, Jean Soine, and Dennis Zimmerman voted for it. Mayor Jeff Thompson also supports the project, making the effective votes 2-1 in the township and 4-1 in the city.

The revised agreement was needed in part because the time required to exit the agreement is one year. Both Pietsch and Nehring expressed their commitment to the project, but their fear was if costs started to skyrocket, the township would be liable for another year of costs. The new agreement puts a cap on the township's share.

Among the critics at the township meeting was township resident Ed Lang, who questioned why the township continues to move ahead with the airport against the wishes of the people, claiming that the people overwhelmingly oppose it.

Pietsch responded that he ran in March as an airport supporter and was re-elected, allowing him to continue to vote in favor of it on the township board.

At the council meeting on Wednesday, April 25, Beek wondered why the city should change and if there was any limit to what the city would spend on a new airport.

Thompson responded that the city and township have developed a close relationship and good rapport in recent years and it is important not to jeopardize that.

Beek expressed concern about land costs and about the possibility of condemnation costs in acquiring the land needed for the airport.

The land appraisals came in $27,500 higher than the original estimates for land purchasing. The new runway might also be paved right away, adding to the initial costs but eliminating the need to do this in the future. It would be more difficult and costly to add a paved surface in the future than include it in the original construction.

The airport commission members have expressed their desire to keep the project costs as low as possible, but can not guarantee that the local contribution would be $200,000 per entity. MnDOT pays the first $200,000 of construction and 60 percent of the remaining, meaning the city and township have to pick up the remaining 40 percent.

The actual costs of the project will not be known until the land is purchased and the bids for construction are let and received. Negotiations with landowners have started, and if all goes as planned, bids could be let next winter and construction started next spring.

(Linda Stelling and Peter Jacobson contributed to this report.)

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