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Landowners ask council not to pave airport runway
Oct. 6, 2017

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

WINSTED, MN – Tuesday’s Winsted City Council meeting seemed to clear up a misunderstanding about the city’s intentions for the Winsted Municipal Airport.

About 20 people attended the meeting. A statement with four landowners’ signatures, as well as signatures from six Winsted Farmers Co-op Creamery officials, was distributed noting that they are opposed to their land being taken to upgrade the airport runway.

The council explained that acquiring property through eminent domain has never been considered for this project.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no intent of doing eminent domain,” Mayor Steve Stotko said. “There never has been.”

Each council member voiced agreement with this position.

“As long as I’m on this board, it’s not going to happen,” Council Member George Schulenberg said.

Council Member Patty Fitzgerald asked what gave landowners the idea that this could happen.

“Was it the ProSource letter?” she asked, referring to the consulting firm ProSource Technologies, which the city had hired at a cost not to exceed $5,000.

“Yes, absolutely,” landowner Darlene Otto responded.

In July, Jason Alt of ProSource had been directed to meet with Ron and Darlene Otto, as well as representatives of the Winsted Farmers Co-op Creamery, and do some preliminary title search work. His job was to meet with these two landowners first, as they were considered to be the most “unwilling” sellers of the eight that would need to agree to sell for paving to occur.

The council had considered both paving and turf reconstruction options (see sidebar).

The goal was for ProSource to discuss the options with the landowners, then report back to the council. From there, the council had planned to decide if paving was still a viable option, or if it would be better to do a turf reconstruction project.

ProSource was not successful in scheduling meetings with either of the two landowners, however.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Darlene said she had received two voice messages from ProSource.

“I left a voice mail stating we would meet with all the landowners as a group, but not alone. We had no return call,” she noted.

Darlene said she received a certified letter Sept. 18 stating that “a portion of the referenced parcel has been programmed for acquisition.”

Fitzgerald said she believes ProSource sent the letter in order to be official, and it was not meant to imply that eminent domain was a possibility.

Council Member Tom Ollig said the council went through eminent domain about 20 years ago for another project, and “it was not a good experience.”

“We would just as soon have sat down with all of you over a cup of coffee and talked about it,” Ollig said. He explained that, unfortunately, legal formalities prevent it from working that way.

Fitzgerald said that, as a council member, it has been frustrating waiting for a formal answer as to whether or not property owners were willing to sell.

“We went through heartache and angst trying to figure this out,” she said.

The council’s decision to pave the runway came at a special meeting June 8, with three members in favor, one opposed, and one abstaining. The vote was the culmination of years of discussion, planning, and deliberation.

“If I had heard this [opposition from landowners] leading up to it, my vote would have been different,” Fitzgerald said. “We really, really need your guys’ input and guidance when these issues come up.”

Darlene asked if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can force the city to move forward with paving. Ollig said, no, it is the council’s decision.

City Administrator Dan Tienter said the FAA has no opinion on which type of improvement project the city chooses, as long as one of the two improvement options is chosen.

Both paving and turf reconstruction were detailed in a 270-page Environmental Assessment (EA).

Ron questioned the signatures of support included in the EA, stating that the signatures were from about four years ago, and the people he talked to were not necessarily in favor of paving.

Tienter said the EA is designed to provide justification for either of the two improvement options – paving or turf rehabilitation. It is not meant to favor one project over another. Both options were evaluated for their environmental impacts.

Because the airport discussion took place during the open forum section of Tuesday’s meeting, the council did not take any formal action. Based on the discussion, it appears that paving will not take place, since it would require land acquisition and the council is unwilling to pursue eminent domain. The other option for runway improvements is turf reconstruction, which does not require land acquisition. The council will be addressing the issue at a future meeting.

Paving vs. turf info

• Paving: In June, the council voted to pursue a paved runway if – and only if – all eight affected property owners were willing to sell a portion of their property for this purpose. The council stated that it would not pursue paving if the landowners were unwilling. A consulting firm, ProSource Technologies, was hired to discuss the options with the landowners and bring back a formal assessment for the council. ProSource was unable to schedule meetings with the landowners.

• Turf: No land acquisition is needed for the council to pursue a turf reconstruction project. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will support either improvement option.

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