Airport concerns brought to township board

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 9/06/00.

Discussion about the proposed airport in Paynesville Township, just west of the present airport site, took half the meeting of the Paynesville Township supervisors on Monday, Aug. 28.

Township resident Mike Meagher asked for the airport issue to be on the agenda and started the discussion with a number of questions.

First, he wanted to know about a township survey a few years back. Supervisor Warren Nehring recalled that the response from the survey indicated that residents weren't in favor of participating in a new airport, but said the results were without residents knowing any facts about the airport.

The township received a petition of 200 signatures asking for a referendum on the airport at its previous meeting on Aug. 14. The board's legal advice is that a referendum on the airport is nonbinding, and thus illegal to conduct because of the expense.

Pat Meagher, who organized the petition drive, said last Monday that even if the referendum is nonbinding, it still would indicate the public opinion. Mike Meagher thought the expense of building an airport deserved a public vote more than "whether to sell a glass of beer on Sunday."

Serving liquor on Sunday will be on the general ballot in November in the city of Paynesville. Changes in the ordinance related to liquor must be voted on by the public.

Mike Meagher wondered if the land on the proposed airport site, which is now classified as residential (10 acre lots), would need to be rezoned to commercial in order to build an airport. Rezoning would require a public hearing, but it was not known whether rezoning the land would be necessary.

Meagher sees the township as a loser at the present airport site. The city, he said, gets to resell the present airport as lots, while the township loses prime ground for development. Meagher compared the fields where the new airport might go to the Chladek Addition 30 years ago.

"I think it's the easiest," he said of the proposed site. "I don't think it's the best." On hand to answer questions at the meeting, in addition to the township supervisors, were Steve Whitcomb, who chairs the airport committee, and Dave Peschong, a Paynesville city councilman who also serves on the airport committee.

Whitcomb said the committee met in a special session recently to reflect on the concerns brought forward at the public hearing for the zoning ordinance. (See the Aug. 23 edition of the Press.) "We're not deaf," he said. "We hear loud and clear." The committee still wants to be good neighbors to the surrounding landowners, he added.

Whitcomb explained that when the site for a new airport was considered the area east of Paynesville had Heatherwood, the area north of town had the sewage ponds and the railroad tracks, and the area south of town has hills, lots of houses, and Lake Koronis. Using the existing site and shifting the runway farther west was a logical option. This site has been in sole consideration for four years.

In light of the recent concerns about the proposed site, a further shifting of the runway to the west is being considered.

Up until the hearing, Whitcomb said, the committee had been thinking about where the best place would be for pilots and planes, not where houses were likely to go in the future. From a visiting pilots perspective, a site near town would be more convenient for getting meals, lodging, and recreation.

Mike Meagher argued that the proposed location of the hangars wouldn't be very convenient, and that people driving to town wouldn't care if they had to drive a mile or five miles. "I think there's going to be a whole lot less opposition if it's farther away from town," he said.

Whitcomb emphasized that the convenience of the hangars wasn't directed to people with access to cars, but plane passengers who only spend a day in town.

Wherever a new airport would be built, Pat Meagher warned that it's noisy at the end of the runway. He should know, as he lives at the end of the present runway.

After the public hearing on zoning, Mike Flanders, another landowner affected by the proposed airport site, had lots of people ask him why they hadn't brought these concerns forward before. He admitted that it would have been better before, but it is better now than after an airport is built. Whitcomb agreed, saying it is easier to move an airport now, with ten thousands of dollars invested, than later, with hundreds of thousands invested.

Township chairman Don Pietsch, who also represents the township on the airport committee, said he brought three concerns to the recent airport meeting, in light of what was said to him at the zoning meeting: the school, Highway 23, and the golf course. Concerns have been raised about the high and middle schools being located so near the new runway, which does run more east and west than the present strip. Whitcomb emphasized that the standard flight pattern of taking left turns to approach the runway would have planes approaching over the lake and golf course.

The future route of Highway 23 won't be decided for 18 months, reported Flanders, who talked with someone in the Willmar office of the Minnesota Depart-ment of Transportation (MnDOT). The airport committee has been working with airport division of MnDOT, who have approved the proposed airport location.

Another concern was that the proposed location for a new clubhouse at Koronis Hills Golf Course might be in the restricted zoning areas for the airport. No structures would be able to be built in Zone A at the end of the runway, and Zone B would limit the number of people who could gather at a site. Peschong thought these zones only included the driving range. A new clubhouse, especially if it moved closer to the first tee, would be near this restricted area.

Township supervisor John Atwood said his preference was still to build a new airport near Roscoe. This option was being considered at one time as a joint project between the cities of Paynesville and Cold Spring. That effort died, according to Whitcomb, when Cold Spring representatives indicated they didn't want to support the project financially.

Near the end of the 30-minute discussion, Cory Meagher and Mike Meagher urged the township to undertake another survey of township residents.

Pietsch reiterated that the township entered the airport agreement with the city after an orderly annexation agreement was reached. The agreement was the culmination of a long process, and he feels the township needs to stay committed to it. Plus, he said, he was elected to make decisions, and he decided about the airport after studying the facts. "I don't believe that every time we make a decision we take it to a poll," he said.

The airport committee will be holding its next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 5 p.m. at Paynesville City Hall. Call city hall at 243-3714 to get on the agenda.

Other business
•The township board approved a recycling agreement with West Central Sanitation. Twice-a-month recycling pickup will be available for $2 a month for township residents who have trash service with the company. Recycling pick-up will be voluntary. Service is limited to densely populated areas of the township.

The township will be using its SCORE grant to pay for recycling containers. The containers, which cost $6, will be provided at residences that opt for recycling pickup. SCORE funds are generated by a tax on garbage services. The grant, which Paynesville Township received a year ago, is meant to promote recycling.

•Mike Jensen, the township's maintenance man, is working to install 9-1-1 signs in the township. He has already done the signs at residences along County Road 34. Next he will be working along Highway 55.

•The county has requested that the township rename County Road 124, which is now a township road. The county indicated that they would rather the township not keep 124 in the new name.

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