By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN With three people in favor, one opposed, and one abstaining, Winsted City Council members decided to pave the airport runway at a special meeting June 8.
The vote was the culmination of years of discussion, planning, and deliberation, and one the council did not take lightly.
“This has been a very, very difficult struggle for me,” said Council Member George Schulenberg, who voted “yes” to paving.
The other council members who voted in favor were Patty Fitzgerald and Mike Heinrich.
Council Member Tom Ollig voted “no,” stating that the city has other projects that will increase taxes already, and both the turf and tar options would meet the objective of a safe airport runway with improved drainage.
Mayor Steve Stotko abstained.
“My biggest concern is that we’re landlocked,” he said, adding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could potentially want the city to move the runway at some point, to accommodate for future growth.
In response to this concern, Melissa Underwood, senior aviation planner with Bolton & Menk, said that “what we can see for now and in the 20-year plan is that this runway length is adequate and that the location is adequate as well.”
In order to pave, the city will need to acquire 59.6 acres of land.
According to a memo from City Administrator Dan Tienter, six of the eight affected property owners expressed a willingness to consider acquisition, one was unwilling, and one could not be contacted as of the June 8 meeting.
Council members stated that they were not interested in taking land through eminent domain. Therefore, if a property owner refuses to sell, paving would no longer be an option. If this happens, the city council could then decide to reconstruct the turf runway instead.
The council directed city staff to begin land acquisition negotiations with the party who expressed unwillingness to sell.
Winsted Farmers Co-op Creamery
In order to pave, a storage structure near the airport owned by the Winsted Farmers Co-op Creamery will need to be relocated. Tienter said the city will be working with a third party to ensure that this is done in a fair and equitable way. The co-op is not required to agree to the final determination, in which case paving would no longer be possible.
Heinrich and Fitzgerald said the co-op was one of the major factors in their decision to agree to paving. Initially, it was thought that more of the co-op would need to move, and Heinrich and Fitzgerald said they were not willing to put the business at risk for this project. Now, however, with the news that only one storage structure would need to be moved, both said they felt more comfortable with paving.
The impact to local taxpayers was another crucial factor in the council’s decision.
The total cost for the paved runway is about $6,672,800. Ninety-percent of the project will be paid for by the federal government. The local share will be either 5 percent or 10 percent, depending on a possible 5 percent contribution from the state. The state funding decision is made every two years.
For a home valued at $163,323, the property tax impact would be $13 with the 5 percent contribution from the state, or $23 without.
Turf rehabilitation, in contrast, would have had an impact of either $6 or $10.
Fitzgerald said that while she does not want to tax people who do not use the airport, seeing the numbers made paving seem “more doable.”
Ultimately, the 5 or 10 percent local contribution is to be paid by existing and future hangar owners.
Currently, there are 42 hangars.
The paved runway project assumes that 30 more hangars will be added in the future, for a total of 72 hangars.
If the local contribution is 10 percent, the assessment per hangar would be about $1,084 per year for 10 years. (This number is lower than reported from previous meetings, because the city plans to use a $200 annual fee from hangar owners to help with the cost.)
The city would temporarily be responsible for the 30 hangars that aren’t filled yet. Upon construction of a new hangar, the owner would be required to pay their portion of the local cost share, which would refund any property taxes used to support the project.
Hangar fees in Winsted are currently $200 per year, plus 18 cents per square foot for a lease payment. The cost to build a new hangar could range from $50,000 to $70,000, depending on size and amenities. New hangars have a one-time fee of $4,500 for airport access, and a $750 utility charge. Building permit fees vary, and could be about $680.
The paving project will require some changes to the area near the airport, including 1.1 acres of wetland mitigation, realignment of the Luce Line State Trail near the airport, and relocation of 2,742 feet of a Northern Natural Gas pipeline.
Previously, Cable Avenue would have been required to either move or be closed, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since relaxed the rules.
Tienter noted that a paved runway allows for year-round operations and enhances the economic development capabilities of the airport and the community.
Schulenberg said he spoke to a man on the phone who said he could “almost guarantee five to seven new customers” at the airport if it is paved. Schulenberg said pilots from the Twin Cities have been expressing the desire to be at an airport like Winsted’s.
Airport zoning update
After approving the paved runway project, the council also authorized engineering firm Bolton & Menk to submit a grant application to the Minnesota Department of Transportation on behalf of the city for an airport zoning update. The zoning project would be funded 80 percent by the state, and 20 percent locally. The local portion is not to exceed $8,000.