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FAA OKs first phase of airport land release in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- Mayor Frank Yanish was all smiles when he announced Friday the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the city of Willmar's request for the first phase of the old airport land release.

"We're just pleased to announce that we finally do have the land release on the first phase and that it will be approximately 90 acres,'' Yanish said. "Seven years in the making. We're just really happy about it. It's finally happened. We're on the way.''

A letter dated Tuesday from Steven J. Obenauer, manager of FAA's Minneapolis Airports District Office, releases the horseshoe-shaped property located east of County Road 5, north of Willmar Avenue and south of U.S. Highway 12.

"It has been determined that the land to be released is not needed for present or foreseeable airport purposes and such release will not materially or adversely affect the use, operation or maintenance of the airport,'' wrote Obenauer to City Administrator Charlene Stevens.

"Accordingly, the city of Willmar is hereby released from its obligation incurred under various grant agreements with the United States of America to maintain this acreage as airport property,'' Obenauer wrote.

The old airport closed after the new airport, located a couple miles west of the city, opened on Sept. 5, 2006.

This is the first phase of a three-phase land release described in the memorandum of understanding the city signed with the FAA in December 2011.

Yanish said the first phase is already platted into lots for expansion and development of the industrial park. The project will be paid with revenue raised by the local option sales tax.

"By the release of phase one, the city is allowed to sell those lots to anybody to increase the industrial park,'' he said.

Stevens said the land release will be executed by the City Council at the Monday night meeting.

Stevens said approval of the first phase will allow the city to work with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway on an agreement to construct a quiet zone at the Willmar Avenue Southwest crossing.

The second phase covers about 190 acres located west of County Road 5. Approval is needed to allow the city to construct the western interceptor sewer line, which will serve the northwest part of the city. The release is needed because the line follows County Road 5.

"The most critical phase for us right now is phase two because, without that, the city won't be able to proceed with the western interceptor until that land is released,'' said Stevens.

She said the city submitted documentation for the second phase to FAA last week. She said it takes FAA at least 30 to 45 days to review that documentation.

Stevens said the first phase took a bit longer because FAA requested answers to some questions and wanted additional documentation. The documentation was submitted very near the first of this year. She said the city learned a lot in that process.

"With phase two, we think we submitted all of the documentation as complete as possible for the FAA to begin its review period,'' she said. "It doesn't begin its review period until all documentation is submitted.''

The third phase covers about 550 acres of excess farmland where the old runway and clear zones were located. The third phase includes the old terminal building. Stevens said the FAA did not provide a reason why the terminal, which has received historical status, was included in phase three.

The city is required to market the terminal for a one-year period, which began November 2011 and ends November 2012, before phase three can be released.

Stevens said the third phase is not likely to happen until the end of 2012 and mostly likely early 2013. If no buyer is found for the old terminal, the city may have to look at historic mitigation, she said. That refers to a plan to document the historic significance of the building through photographs or narrative or both before it could be demolished.

Stevens said city staff worked hard on the land release. She said much of the coordination and documentation for FAA was done by Bruce Peterson, planning and development director, particularly the application for historic designation and marketing of the old terminal.

Yanish said he was pleased with the land release.

"We've all been working on this very, very hard,'' he said.

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