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Juhnke reaches agreement with MnDOT on repayment of airport funds

The city of Willmar will not be required to repay about $800,000 that the Minnesota Department of Transportation says the city owes for developing the old airport, according to Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. Under a tentative agreement Juhnke reached with MnDOT Aeronautics representatives, the city will not be required to repay state grants used by the city over the decades for improving and maintaining the old airport.

MnDOT had told the city to repay the state over a five-year period as the city sells land in the old airport for economic development.

The repayment would be used to pay for further airport needs and projects.

Juhnke ar-gued the city should be allowed to use the proceeds from the sale of industrial park land at the old airport for improvements at the new airport, which opened in September 2006.

"Why would we discontinue that use?'' Juhnke said Wednesday.

"Rather, let's roll it over into the new airport under similar situations as they sell parcels, rather than write a check to the state.''

Juhnke said the runway at the new airport requires an additional 1,000 feet. He also said aprons need to be expanded, taxiways need to be widened, and buildings and hangars still need to be developed.

"All perfectly legitimate requests of the state aeronautics fund,'' Juhnke said. If Willmar had been required to repay the state, Juhnke said he would have drafted legislation to have the money sent back to Willmar.

Juhnke said the city will still be required to contribute a 30 percent match for anything utilizing the grant funding, like it always would.

"It's better than losing the money altogether or trying to request it again in the future,'' he said.

"We've got it, it's for aeronautics and airport use. Let's keep it there and use it for that.''

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said the agreement was something the city had proposed to MnDOT, but which MnDOT had rejected.

"That's fine with us. It was one of the alternatives we had thrown out to them two or three years ago,'' he said.

Juhnke said the agreement will be finalized in writing during the next few weeks.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150