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Paynesville Press - November 15, 2006

City council meets
with MnDOT branches

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville City Council, meeting in a special session on Wednesday, Nov. 8, with MnDOT's aeronautics and highway branches, were assured that the two agencies were working to solve concerns the aeronautics division has about the proposed improvement plans for Highway 23 in Paynesville.

MnDOT District 8 (Willmar) plans to build a new four-lane Highway 23 in a roughly five-mile stretch thru Paynesville and has chosen the west bypass as its "preferred alternative."

This route, coming from the west, curves around the end of the airport, runs a couple hundred yards to the west of the current highway by the high school (on the other side of the line of businesses), and then crosses the river and proceeds around the northern edge of town.

Four MnDOT representatives (two highway, two airport) attended last week's meeting, along with around 30 local business owners and local citizens, as well as newly re-elected Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynes-ville) and Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph).

The airport representatives - Peter Buchen, manager of airport development for MnDOT aeronautics division, and Mike Lewis, aviation planning director and zoning administrator - were primarily concerned with the proposed new Highway 23 being placed in Zone A for the airport. This clear zone - intended to give a pilot a safe place to land in case of an emergency, thus protecting the pilot's safety and the general public - would ideally have no structures, no light poles, not even a raised highway, since a ditch could create an impact for a pilot attempting to crash land.

"The clearer the approach to the airport, the safer it'll be," said Lewis. "If I could have my druthers, would I like to see anything (in Zone A)? Absolutely not."

Instead of encroaching in Zone A, the aeronautics representatives asked if there were any alternatives? Of primary concern in Zone A are two proposed ramps, one an off-ramp for traffic coming from Hawick and the other an on-ramp for traffic going to Roscoe. For the highway traffic, MnDOT will want lights for motorists to see these ramps. But the extra light poles and additional roadways provide added obstacles in Zone A.

Lowell Flaten, project manager for the Highway 23 improvements for MnDOT District 8 in Willmar, said the aeronautics staff and highway staff had met for two hours the previous day in Willmar and come to the conclusion that "we can make modifications to make it work."

The west alternative is still the preferred alternative, said Flaten.

The design for Highway 23 might use shallower slopes in Zone A, the MnDOT representatives said, and MnDOT District 8 will try to move the ramps out of Zone A.

Originally, MnDOT District 8 provided only two ramps - not allowing full access - for Highway 23 on the west end of Paynesville. After negotiations with the city a year ago, MnDOT District 8 added two ramps to provide for full movement - on and off in both directions - on the west end.

Flaten suggested that the ramp currently in Zone A could be moved further to the west, by the golf course. (The other two ramps on the west end - an off-ramp for traffic coming from Roscoe and an on-ramp for traffic going to Hawick would be located at the new Cemetery Road, which would run to the north exit from Paynesville Area High School.)

Local business owner Stan Yarmon, who has been the spokesman for a group of businesses wanting greater access to the new highway, said MnDOT should not automatically move these ramps further west, out of town. He asked that they look at moving them closer to town.

Chuck Koshiol, also a business owner on the west end, said he agreed 100 percent, saying nobody would exit at the golf course hill to stop at local businesses. "Those intersections need to be right in town," he said.

Another suggestion by Steve Brown, a member of the airport commission, was to make a cloverleaf at the new Cemetery Road.

When council member Jeff Bertram asked if this was possible, Flaten immediately sounded discouraging, citing spacing requirements but saying MnDOT District 8 would take another look. Bertram, who had earlier said that in his experience with MnDOT as a state legislator that their first answer was always "no," said Flaten hadn't let him down.

Flaten immediately dismissed a suggestion by Harold Easterday of Paynesville to put a stoplight on the west end of town. "We are not putting a stoplight at that intersection," said Flaten, citing time of travel concerns for Highway 23 as an interregional corridor from Willmar to St. Cloud. "I believe we have put that issue to rest."

MnDOT aeronautics also raised a few other issues about allowing encroachment in Zone A, including a history of encroachment at the original airport in town. The airport originally opened in the 1940s with three airstrips, said Lewis. One closed soon after, another closed in the 1950s, and the airport became so unsafe due to encroaching obstacles that it was withdrawn from the public airport system in the 1980s.

The aeronautics representatives hinted that state and federal funding for the airport might be put in jeopardy should the integrity of the new airport be jeopardized.

They also warned about development pressure on the old highway and said that the proposed new highway might make expanding the airport to a 5,000-foot runway difficult. The city, though, already has land to expand to a 4,000-foot runway, and with airstrips over 5,000 feet in both St. Cloud and Willmar, the local airport commission sees little chance that such a long runway will ever be needed in Paynesville.

Brown, a local pilot, urged the council to be very careful not to jeopardize anything that would enable instrument navigation to the new airport and to maintain the glide slope.

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