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FAA stands firm on Willmar terminal

WILLMAR -- The federal government's release of former airport land to the city of Willmar continues to hinge on the historical significance of the old airport's deteriorating terminal building and the 4.5 acres of land surrounding it.

That was the assessment of City Administrator Michael Schmit who along with others from Willmar met last week with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration at the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul.

According to Schmit and Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, the Willmar delegation was unable to persuade the agencies that the terminal is not historically significant and that the former airport land should be released to the city.

As a result of the meeting, Schmit and Peterson will be talking to the City Council about options going forward including the possibility of appealing Historic Preservation Office's determination that the terminal is eligible for historical designation and placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The options will be presented to the council's Community Development Committee on Nov. 29 and then to the full council for a decision on whether the city should appeal the eligibility for historical designation.

Peterson said the old terminal has not yet been designated to the National Register, but has only been designated as eligible for the National Register.

"We still don't think that it is historical,'' said Peterson. "Obviously the FAA and (State Historic Preservation Office) disagree with what we've said to them in the past.''

However, the agencies did discuss the appeal process, and Peterson said the city has been communicating with FAA to learn more about the process. Peterson said the ultimate decision on what happens on the airport property lies with the FAA.

Peterson said he will ask the council to direct staff to file an appeal, which must come through the FAA to the keeper of the National Register.

If the council appeals, the FAA would require the city to obtain more information about the terminal's condition. That would mean hiring another consultant to do the analysis, according to Schmit.

One consultant has already found severe mold and structural problems, and the council on Nov. 1 voted to declare the old terminal unsafe.

The delegation again discussed the possibility of releasing all the old airport land except for the terminal and the 4.5-acre site, but the agencies emphatically rejected that option, Peterson said. They cited case law through the National Environmental Protection Act that states the release must be treated in its entirety, he said.

"We've got a long road ahead of us yet I'm afraid,'' Peterson said.

Others attending the meeting Tuesday were airport manager Megan Sauer, State Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar and Tom Meium, area representative in the Willmar office of 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.

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