Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - December 19, 2001

New airport may need to use eminent domain

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Regional Airport Commission will soon be asking the Paynesville City Council and the Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors for the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land for a new airport.

The airport commission voted to hire an attorney to aid with land acquisitions for the airport, including possible eminent domain proceedings. The attorney, John Martin of St. Paul, will write resolutions to send to both the city council and the township board.

According to the commission's by-laws, express permission of the city council and township board - the commission's parent governmental bodies - must be given in order to use eminent domain.

If ready, the resolutions could be presented at the city council and township board meetings next week. (The township board meets on Monday, Dec. 24, at noon, and the city council meets on Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 6 p.m.) If the resolutions are not ready by then, they will be presented in January.

The new airport requires 210 acres of land west of Paynesville, slightly to the west of the current airport. The land acquisition process started last spring, after the airport zoning board approved a new airport zoning ordinance.

The initial land appraisals were completed last May, but were later revised to include some recent land purchases in the immediate vicinity of the city of Paynesville, including land for a new city well and land for the WilGlo Acres Development.

Originally, the airport commission needed to purchase land from five property owners, but the layout of the hangar and apron was modified slightly to eliminate the need to purchase land from one property owner. The commission only needs an easement on a couple acres of land from that property owner.

After nine months of negotiations with the four landowners whose property the airport commission needs to acquire to build the airport, the commission had reached a verbal agreement with one property owner and was close to an agreement with another. One landowner disagrees with the price offered from the appraisal and recently hired an attorney to help with negotiations. Another landowner told the commission, through their negotiator, that he would take a price set by the court unless his price was met.

Having the authority to use eminent domain does not mean the land will have to be acquired through legal action. The best way to acquire land is by agreement, the airport commission's new lawyer told chairman Steve Whitcomb, who related his conversation with the rest of the commission.

A negotiated settlement is still an option even once eminent domain procedures are started. Some of the property owners may wish to sell entire sections of land, instead of just the odd shaped parcels the airport commission requires.

The driving force behind the commission's move towards legal action is time. The airport commission had hoped to have acquired the land needed for the airport already and to have been ready to bid the project this winter. The thinking was that a winter bid would have provided the optimum construction price for next spring.

Even by the quickest route, their attorney advised, the commission would not have clear title to the land until four months after legal proceedings were started. This means even if eminent domain proceedings are filed in January, the soonest the commission would expect to get title would be April.

Bids for construction cannot be let until the commission has title to the land. "Every time we wait a day now, we lose a day in the spring," said commission member Dave Peschong.

Right now, the commission has $250,000 budgeted for land acquisition, including some professional and legal costs. The cost of eminent domain proceedings was not included in that budget.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community