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City Council approves repayment agreement to MnDOT division for land at the old airport

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved an airport land cost repayment agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics.

The agreement lets the city use proceeds from the sale of old airport land for projects at the new airport, rather than use those proceeds to repay part or all of $824,380 given by the state to the city over the decades to acquire land at the old airport site.

The agreement, approved by the council Monday night, says those proceeds will be used to pay down the owed amount.

Any amount remaining by June 30, 2012, must be paid to the state, according to the agreement.

The council was encouraged by State Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, to approve the agreement. Juhnke was author of language approved by the Legislature two years ago that set up an airport rollover account that allows the cost of projects at new airports to count toward payment of state funds owed for purchase of former airport sites.

When Willmar's old airport was closed and the new airport west of town opened Sept. 5, 2006, "unbeknownst to us at the time'' a bill became due to MnDOT Aeronautics to cover payments made since the 1930s when MnDOT invested money in Willmar's airport, Juhnke said.

"As soon as an airport is closed, that money they paid in for an airport now becomes due because it's not being used for airport anymore,'' Juhnke said. He said he understood the repayment conceptually, "but pragmatically to say Willmar owes $824,000 I thought was a bit troubling.''

For situations like Willmar's, using the money for projects at the new airport made sense.

The five-year law took effect two years ago. Officials expected sales would begin immediately, but sales have been delayed due to problems associated with the federal land release. However, Juhnke is optimistic the city is moving closer to obtaining the release.

Juhnke discussed the agreement when he and State Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, presented a legislative update to the council.

In other business, the council:

- Approved the low bid of $125,290.78 from Metro Fire of Ham Lake to upgrade the Willmar Fire Department's 51 self-contained breathing apparatus units. A higher bid was submitted by Mine Safety Appliances Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., for $273,720.82. The upgrades will be purchased through the fire department's 2009 Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

- Approved the price quote of $69 per hour from Cleaning Restoration Services Inc. of Willmar for street cleaning on an as-needed basis, not to exceed $30,000. The company will use a vacuum-type sweeper, which is capable of removing finer particles than the city's mechanical broom sweeper.

- Approved the price quote of Northwest Asphalt Maintenance Inc. of Goodridge at 99 cents per pound for crack sealing streets, not to exceed $15,000.

- Approved an agreement to buy phosphorus credits from the City of Mankato for $40,000.

- Approved plans and specifications and voted to open bids May 4 for 2010 street projects including improvements on 2.8 miles of city streets.

- Accepted the $58,477 bid from Bennett Office Technologies of Willmar to buy office furniture for the new wastewater treatment plant.

- Voted to hold a hearing April 19 on a request by Perkins Lumber Company to vacate a portion of Ninth Street Northwest.

The vacation is supported by the Planning Commission.

- Voted to establish 12 polling places for the Aug. 10 primary election and the Nov. 2 general election.

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