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AIRPORT COMMISSION: City engineer answers concerns over water and sewer extension project

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The planned city sewer and water extension to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport continues to be the primary topic of discussion for the airport’s commission.

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Brainerd City Engineer Jeff Hulsether attended the commission’s monthly meeting Thursday to answer questions and concerns expressed by the commission.

Hulsther said he learned of the concerns after the reading of them in the Brainerd Dispatch.

Concerns have been raised regarding the legal implications of the project since the airport is outside the city’s municipal boundaries as well as the total cost of the project. The city estimates the project will cost approximately $7 million.

Other questions include whether residents along the Highway 210 corridor would have access to the extension for individual service connection.

Hulsether said the city has considered the water and sewer extension to the airport for many years. In 2006, a study was conducted to determine the feasibility of the project.

“The long-term plan was to be able to ultimately loop our water systems which would be possible with this ... extension to the airport,” he said.

“The project currently being considered is just one of the phases of extending water and sewer to the airport,” Hulsether said. Hulsether clarified that the initial project would not include the option for connection to adjacent properties. “Those would probably be future phases,” he said.

The project is part of a larger bonding bill set to be presented in the next bonding session when the state Legislature reconvenes in 2014. The proposal did not pass in the last legislative session. “It’s our hope that it will be reconsidered again next spring,” Hulsether said.

Hulsether said one of the more notable questions that has been asked was the concern of statutory authority and whether the city has the right to extend a project outside of its municipality. “Yes we do,” Hulsether said, citing Minnesota statue 429.021.

The statute gives local municipalities the power to make infrastructural improvements including sewer and water connections.

Huslether said there is a great deal of public right of way on the 210 corridor allowing for construction.

“We don’t expect a lot of issues with right of way or permanent easements at this time,” he said. “The project as a whole looks pretty darn clean.”

Hulsether said if the project is funded he expects construction to begin in 2015.

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom asked if there was a “Plan B” should the projects funding not be approved.

“If we’re not funded the airport is going to have to consider what to do,” Hulsether said.

Hulsether also addressed new questions regarding public assessment. Hulsether said there are no plans to assess at this time.

Approval was given for the July 2012 agenda and minutes. Before approval of the bills was given, Commissioner Don Jacobson questioned the need for terrorism insurance.

The airport pays $902 annually for terrorism insurance separate from its standard insurance policy.

“Typically an insurance policy will exempt acts of terrorism from your property insurance,” Airport manager Jeff Wig explained adding that terrorism insurance is something recommended for all airports.

Jacobson questioned whether the airport would be covered for the entirety of damage left in the wake of a terrorist attack and whether it is required by the federal government.

“What are we getting for our $900?,” Jacobson asked. “Some of these policies are so vague that you pay in and never collect a penny.”

Payment of the bills was unanimously approved.

Learned of a preliminary budget for requested appropriation from the city and county for 2014. The budget shows a 2 percent increase in requested funds from the 2013 budget. The increase is in partly due to anticipation of overtime needed to maintain the runways in the case of a snowy winter, a possibility Wig said for which plans should be made.

“What drives 95 percent our overtime here is snow,” Wig said.

Also included in the increase is the need for employee health insurance; which includes Wig and administrative assistant Rani Mohler. The other four airport employees’ health benefits covered through their union.

Commission Chairman Andy Larson said he felt that the amount requested to cover insurance was not a great deal considering what they could be paying.

Health benefits through the county are $1,600 per month.

Commissioner Jacobson said he was not satisfied with the increase in the requested budget and would have rather seen a decrease in the budget.

“I think it’s going the wrong way,” Jacobson said. “I think we should be holding the line or reducing. Instead of going up 1.5 to 2 percent I’d like to see us going down 1.5 to 2 percent.” Jacobson said it was a matter of principle.

Wig said one of the main components of the airport’s strategic plan is to sustain growth.

“Cutting expenses may not be consistent with the growth philosphy,” he said. Jacobson guaranteed he could cut $20,000 from the budget without hurting the airport.

Commissioner Beth Pfinsgsten said the growth requires promotion and said the airport has not asked for an increase in recent years. “Times are a changing,” she said echoing the airport’s desire to promote and grow. “I’m comfortable with this budget.”

The commission approved the preliminary budget to be presented to the city and county for approval with a 5-1 vote. Jacobson cast the sole no vote. The commission will review the city and county’s response at its February 2014 commission meeting.

Updated information on the gravel pit on airport property being accessed for target shooting. The commission was alerted by a concerned citizen; which raised the question of liability. Wig said he has spoken with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Department of Natural Resources about any precedence for similar situations. Wig also spoke to the airport’s insurance company and confirmed that the airport’s liability insurance would cover any incidents occurring in the gravel pit. Wig has a meeting Aug. 9 to further discuss the issue with County Attorney Don Ryan. Any decision in regars to the future of gravel pit’s use will be deferred until after Wig meets with Ryan.

The commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Sept. 5.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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