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Willmar council panel takes no action on request for farmland agreement for parcel near airport

WILLMAR — Pennock area farmer Dan Groothuis asked the Willmar City Council’s Finance Committee this week to support his request for a negotiated rental rate or right-of-first-refusal agreement on farmland he once owned near the airport but is now owned by the city.

The committee discussed but took no action on the request Monday afternoon.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday explained the city obtained various parcels of land for the new airport and clear zone areas, including a parcel formerly owned by Groothuis.

The parcel for which Groothuis was requesting the negotiated rental rate or right-of-first-refusal is located northwest of the runway. The parcel was intended for possibly extending the runway after the airport opened in the fall of 2006.

However, the city has yet to extend the runway.

The agreement requested by Groothuis would be different from the longtime practice of obtaining bids from farmers interested in farming land near the airport. The right to farm goes to the highest bidder.

The practice included land located near the former airport, and now land near the new airport and near the new wastewater treatment facility, both located west of the city.

Halliday said bids run for four years at a time. He said the time period was established after farmers said they wanted four years of alfalfa production. He said new bids for the period of 2015 through 2018 will be taken in August.

The land on which Groothuis wanted the agreement was obtained by the city under the eminent domain process in 2004. Halliday said Groothuis was paid market value for the land at that time.

Groothuis told the committee that he owns two other nearby triangular pieces. Before the parcel in question was taken, he said he had an L-shaped piece.

Groothuis said he bid for the land last time but incorrectly filled out the form. Another individual submitted the highest bid and Groothuis sublet the property from the winning bidder for four years.

Halliday did not make a recommendation. The alternative was to stay with the current four-year policy of bidding farm land conducted by the airport manager, he said.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said sealed bids seemed fair and he asked what was wrong with the bidding process.

Groothuis said he has a vested interest in the property. He said he lost 10 percent of his land in 2004 and said he thought it would be right for him to receive right-of-first-refusal.

His proposal did not receive support from other committee members, however.

Anderson said the issue will go the council as information May 19.

In other business, the committee:

* Approved the 2014 budget calendar. The calendar sets dates when certain steps are to be taken by the mayor, city staff and council toward formulating the 2015 budget, which will be adopted in December.

* Tabled reallocation of funds from the Surface Water Management Budget to pay $156,270 levied by the Kandiyohi County Board for repairs to seven county ditches within the city limits. The committee asked City Administrator Charlene Stevens to research the possibility of using other funds to pay for the repairs and to research the possibility of contesting the amount.

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