Cass County Board: Commissioners approve controversial airport easement

WALKER--Cass County commissioners granted Jeff and Arby Snell an easement across county-administered tax-forfeited land Tuesday after hearing from several concerned neighbors.

WALKER-Cass County commissioners granted Jeff and Arby Snell an easement across county-administered tax-forfeited land Tuesday after hearing from several concerned neighbors.

The easement is for an approach area where vegetation is limited gradually from about 30 feet high, then diminishes down to just inches to provide a clear area to meet state requirements for an approach to a landing strip at a private airport.

Ray Olson built the private airport in the 1970s on the west shore of Webb Lake, east of Hackensack.

It was used most recently by pilot John Justad, who offered scenic viewing plane rides to the public.

The Snells have been trying to get their own private airport license from the state since they purchased the property over a year ago. Snell said he does not believe the state inspected the airport during the time Justad used it.


Among the state's requirements is a provision that calls for trees to be cut lower than their current height to make a clear approach to the airport's paved runway. The approach to the north end of the runway passes over the county land, hence the need for the easement.

State officials have visited the airport and specified an overall clear zone about 800 feet from the runway end.

Snell said it would be his intent to cut off the existing trees and to replant tree species that would not grow taller than 30 feet, then plant an area of shrubs in the middle area to meet the gradual decline the state wants and to plant grass closest to his runway.

Oriole Lane Northwest passes along the north end of the clear zone area and serves as access to several homes. Several of those neighbors said they thought at a December 2016 county meeting on the issue that there would be a 400-foot buffer of trees left standing after the clearing.

"Why is that 400-foot detail not in the county board minutes?" neighbor Mark Wadzink asked.

Jim Tibesar also thought there was to be a 400-foot tree buffer. "Is this the first step to making it into a commercial airport?" he asked.

Mike Huigens said he bought his property over last winter for its wilderness feel and with the promise that standing trees would remain as viewed from Oriole Lane and his property. He was concerned his property enjoyment and value would decline.

Snell said there will not be a commercial airport on his property. He said he plans to get 500 or 1,000 tree seedlings for shorter tree species from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to replace trees that are cut.


He said the state representative who inspected his site approved of 30-foot high trees and 6- to 7-foot shrubs for the intermediate area.

The board changed a proposal Tuesday from a 10-foot to a 400-foot buffer by Oriole Lane and approved the easement. Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk voted against the motion, asking for more information about a tree growth plan.

Land Commissioner Kirk Titus said the Snells have paid the $7,800 easement fee and have obtained a current land survey for the easement area. The county attorney has reviewed the easement document.

Titus said after the meeting he plans to continue to work with Snell and the neighbors as the work progresses.

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