Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 7, 2002

Airport runway future affects use of industrial park

By Julie Yurek

Winsted City Council members weighed options about paving the Winsted Airport runway during a workshop Wednesday.

Councilors gathered information from airport commission members, the engineering firm of Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH), and local folks, but made no decisions since it was a workshop scheduled before the city council meeting.

At the heart of the issue are federal funding, regulations, and the proximity of the city's industrial park to the airport.

Councilors discussed a number of options, including paving and resodding the runway, both of which are candidates for federal or state dollars, or just leaving it as is, seeking no funding.

Federal money is available for paving, or state money for resodding - however, the catch is that the airport must meet government regulations, SEH representative Bob Cohrs said.

In the past, a wrinkle occurred when the city had to re-apply for its application because someone indicated previously that the city wanted to relocate the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not give money if it is for the construction of a new airport, Cohrs said.

Cohrs went back to the FAA and changed the designation to developing an existing airport.

The FAA OKed the changed designation and approved $150,000, Cohrs said.

"Why did we lose that $150,000?" Mayor Don Guggemos asked.

The city didn't qualify for the money because it did not meet federal codes for paving of the taxi lanes last year, Cohrs said.

"There were some letters that went back and forth. The city needed more information. You didn't spend $150,000," Cohrs said.

The money is approved yearly, so the city can still qualify for this year and next, Cohrs said.

A member from the airport commission asked the council if the city knew why the FAA would have the Winsted airport designated as looking for a new location. No one on the council knew where that idea came from, although Guggemos thought it was probably done in the early 1980s by the city administrator at that time.

Cohrs informed the council that Winsted qualifies now, meaning the city could receive up to $450,000 during a five-year period.

If the city decides to use government money, 10 acres at the north end of the industrial park would be rendered unusable since no buildings could be built upon it, Cohrs said.

The reason for this is to meet federal codes for safety, in case of a plane crash, as well as more room for bigger and faster airplanes, Cohrs said.

The FAA requires the zoning of this area to be changed in order to comply with FAA specifications, he said.

"What you're telling the state, or the FAA, is we're going to design our airport outside the standards that everybody else adheres to. Basically, you wouldn't have a safe airport," Cohrs said.

"You're not protecting the air space, and you're not serious about developing an airport," he said.

In addition, if paving was done, the high line wires would need to be buried or get a variance, probably adding $1 million to the project. However, this cost would be covered under the federal grant, Cohrs said.

If the choice to sod or replant is made, then the airport may apply for partial reimbursement from the state.

There is no guarantee that the state would give money, Cohrs said.

Money for equipment and material, either sod or soil and seed, would probably be less than paving costs, Guggemos noted.

The inability to build on the northern 10 acres of the industrial park would still exist if the council chose to seed or sod the strip, Cohrs said.

"If we keep the grass field, seek no funding, and maintain the grass field as best we can, under that scenario could we build in the northern part of the park?" council member Tom Ollig asked Cohrs.

The only way to be able to build in the industrial park is to change the existing zoning of the 10 acres, Cohrs replied.

By keeping the industrial park the way it is, the city would jeopardize its funding, Cohrs said.

Ollig asked about moving the airport more west.

That is an option, Cohrs said. It would require moving a road and buying 50 to 60 acres of land.

If the city had to sell the 10 acres in the industrial park, the FAA would reimburse the city the amount of what the city paid for it, although not what it's worth today, Cohrs said.

As the workshop ran into the city council meeting time, Ollig expressed his wish to see all the options spelled out.

Council member Gary Lenz made a motion and was approved to have Mareck and Guggemos find out about purchasing new land for the industrial park.

Cohrs touched on the idea of members of the council talking to the state about funding and specifications.

Ollig, Mareck, and Guggemos agreed to talk with the state before Feb. 1.

A decision will hopefully be made at the first meeting in February, Guggemos said.

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