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Brainerd City Council: Airport annexation issue comes up again

The city of Brainerd is looking at the issues related to annexing the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport into the city, partly to regulate utilities at the airport.

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Council member Sue Hilgart clarified the city hasn't made its mind up either way on the annexation issue and there's a lot to discuss prior to making a decision. Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

The city of Brainerd is looking at the issues related to annexing the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport into the city, partly to regulate utilities at the airport.

The Brainerd City Council at its Jan. 19 meeting approved a motion to notify airport partners of the city's intent to open discussions on annexing the airport property into the city. The airport is jointly owned by Crow Wing County and the city of Brainerd and lies within Oak Lawn Township.

A project to extend Brainerd Public Utilities' water and sewer service to the airport this summer is referred to as the airport utility extension project. The airport partners referred to in the motion include Crow Wing County, Oak Lawn Township, BPU and city staff, council member Kelly Bevans said.

At the meeting, city building official Tim Caughey informed the council of his concerns related to the project. Specifically, he said he's worried about the lack of utility regulation at the airport once the project is complete.

In Caughey's field, plumbing and mechanical codes are controlled by annexation, he said. Properties in the limits of a city have to follow the codes of that particular city.

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"If they hook to the utilities and they are not annexed, we have no control or oversight on what happens on our utility hookups," Caughey said.

The airport would be a large commercial user, Caughey said, so this lack of oversight concerned him. Plumbing codes are in place to prevent contamination in a system, he said, so if no codes apply at the airport, the system could be contaminated by unregulated hookups.

Without annexation or a regulation agreement, state building code, applicable statewide, would be responsible for oversight at the airport, Caughey said. State code applies to the overall project, he said, but if a tenant at the airport wants to put plumbing facilities in a hangar, there's no oversight for smaller projects.

"In a realistic setting, the state is not going to be aware of small, private projects," Caughey said.

There's another enforcement option for the airport, Caughey said, but it's complicated. State statute allows a city to enforce its building codes within a 2-mile radius of the city, which would reach the airport. But it would also affect Baxter, the city's next-door neighbor. Council member Mary Koep said City Attorney Eric Quiring could look into and provide more information on the 2-mile law.

There's a large list of issues related to the annexation discussions, Bevans said, so it's important to keep everyone involved informed. City taxpayers are spending $2 million in funds for the project at the airport, he said, which isn't in the city of Brainerd.

"All these reasons are valid and I believe leads to why we should discuss this now," Bevans said. "Prior to, as Mrs. Koep said, we might be talking about bonding for a project as early as March."

The motion to notify airport partners of the opening of annexation discussions passed on a 6-1 vote, with Koep voting against the motion. She said she knew for a long time the annexation discussions would be coming up and hoped the council would have talked more about the issue before going to its neighbors.

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Annexing the airport into the city might negate the partnership the city and county have with the airport, Koep said.

"I just don't feel, personally, that this is going to benefit Brainerd," Koep said. "I think it's going to cost Brainerd hugely. Tax revenue is almost non-existent. ...I don't think we've thought about this, carefully and financially."

Council member Sue Hilgart clarified the city hasn't made its mind up either way on the annexation issue and there's a lot to discuss prior to making a decision.

Also at the meeting, the council unanimously approved a motion to uphold a decision from the 1970 city council, which resulted in the policy of BPU users outside the city limits of Brainerd being charged double for their service.

At a July meeting, the council approved a motion to proceed with annexation discussions involving the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission, Crow Wing County and Oak Lawn Township.

In August, the Airport Commission discussed the annexation issue with representatives from the city of Brainerd including Jim Thoreen, city Administrator, Mark Ostgarden, city planner and Jeff Hulsether, city engineer.

Then again in October, the Airport Commission hosted a special meeting to again discuss annexation with representatives from the city, county and Oak Lawn Township.

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTY
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