Land proposal on city council agenda

Published on Thu, Aug 7, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Land proposal on city council agenda

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

The city of Blaine will discuss the acquisition of 5.43 acres lying near the southern area of the Blaine Municipal Airport, at Monday evening�s city council meeting. According to city manager Gary Tomsic, there will be a report to the council, and part of it will likely be in executive session.

The acreage, owned by Robert Carruthers, has been condemned by the city as it contains tall trees that encroach into the airport�s flight path. According to Tomsic, a purchase proposal was presented to Carruthers� attorney, however the city has not yet received word from Carruthers. Tomsic said they have given Carruthers until Friday to make a decision, and noted the financial terms of the proposal could not be released.

There are a total of 485 trees in the southern end of the airport that have been identified as too tall, however the city is attempting to acquire this condemned area, to save costs, Tomsic said. The area contains wetlands that the city will have to restore should logging take place in that area. A current court order states that the city has to log the area, stumps and all. The city has already spent over $100,000 in court costs, legal fees and permits dealing with these acres and several around it.

Tomsic said the city can save costs and time associated with an army corp and state wetlands permit, along with the mitigation costs. �Also, to save legal fees associated with continuing a non- friendly condemnation with Carruthers,� he said. �If the city purchases the property and removes trees (leaving the stumps so that we do not have to get a wetlands permit and mitigate), we will be left with an asset�the 5.43 acres of land and home.�

He said compared with the estimated cost of continued condemnation and mitigation costs, this makes financial sense.

Should the city not purchase the land, the city will incur some kind of mitigation costs. �If we have to do any wetlands mitigation, often time you have to replace the property you have destroyed,� he said.

If the city were to destroy one acre of wetland, they would likely have to purchase two acres and construct wetlands, to compensate for the initial destruction, according to Tomsic. �The cost of acquiring property for that and actually doing mitigation work is something we don�t yet know,� he said. �And at this point we don�t know what mitigation will be required.�

The city, he said, has not done any precise cost estimates, because they are first trying to purchase Carruthers property. By doing this, they will not have to log the area, or incur mitigation costs. The trees would be cut, and any money from the sales of these trees would go to the Carruthers family, as well as the Klein family (another affected nearby property owner). One family, according to public works director Steve Banham, will actually sell the cut trees themselves.

Tomsic said the land in question had been appraised two years ago. �Roughly the cost of securing the easement from Carruthers is approximately a couple hundred thousand dollars,� he said.

Officials believe the move towards possible land acquisition is a step in the right direction and will likely help the tree removal process.

�It�s positive for the airport and for the flying public,� airport commissioner Doug Fenton said. �We have heard from a number of people who would like to base their airplanes here, but are reluctant to do so because of the trees.�

Tomsic echoed this, stating the people who are closest to this issue feel strongly that the danger associated with the trees severely curtails airport use. �They appear confident that removing the trees will generate additional use of the airport,� he said.

Debate over acquisition
Only a few citizens showed at the last council meeting to hear and speak about the possible land acquisition, but those that did asked officials to examine the best use of the airport property.

Bill Dodd said he would like the city to explore all options for the airport property. �It�s not going to get any easier,� he said, telling the council to examine their options. �Something could be there that might be a betterment for the city.�

Resident Jim Jorgensen said he also wanted the city to examine all options. �It�s important we look at all viable options,� he said, noting the potential of the 2010 Olympics. �What is the best use of that property? You really need to look at all of the viable options it represents.�

In response to those that question the airport and its potential, Fenton said he believes there is a myth within the community. �There is a myth that only four or five Blaine residents benefit from the airport. That�s not true,� he said. �There are approximately 27 airplanes at the airport, and probably about a dozen residents that use it (the airport) a lot.�

When asked about the possibility of establishing a committee (similar to the CWAC committee, which addresses the city�s sewer plant) comprised of city officials, residents and business people to better address airport issues and act as a form of communication between the airport and the public, Tomsic said the council has not considered that. �There may be some discussion going on to do that, but it hasn�t come up in city council,� he said. �The city council has not considered forming that kind of committee.�

When asked if that committee could be beneficial to the community, Tomsic said yes, but it would be hard to form. �I think it would be very difficult to put together a committee to do that. I think it would have some value, but I think that structuring a committee of people who are truly objective about this would be very difficult to do,� he said. �For some people on both sides this is a very emotional issue.�

There is a format for the public to provide their input, Tomsic said. �We have an airport commission that meets on a regular basis in a public meeting. It�s open to the public. Once a month, people can come in and voice their concerns or suggestions to the airport commission,� he said. The commission meets on the third Friday of each month at 9 a.m. at city hall.

Currently the city of Blaine has no system to record usage at the Blaine Municipal Airport. The last count of take-offs and landings was an estimate for the FAA several years ago, in which the city estimated 5,000 operations in one year�an average of seven planes a day, landing and taking off.

When asked if the city of Blaine plans to implement a records system to prove usage, which could assist in attaining airport funds, Tomsic said there were no plans.

�I think the annual operation is an important figure that�s used in determining what the facility needs are at the airport. The problem with keeping that record is that you have to have someone there all the time who has a way of counting all of the different operations, so it becomes an expense that a small airport like ours at this point we can�t justify,� he said. �I can�t justify putting someone out there 24 hours a day. Airplanes land in the day and in the night, so it would be very difficult. And there�s no scheduled use of the airport. It�s (record keeping) not very practical for an airport of our size to do that.�

Since the Blaine airport is relatively small, Tomsic was asked about the possibility of implementing a sign-in program that would prove usage. �You could do that I suppose,� he said. �But I don�t know if that�s a common thing for an airport or not.�

Fuel records, however, are recorded, and Fenton said many pilots come to Blaine to purchase fuel, which is currently priced at $2.39 per gallon. The rate at nearby Bellingham International Airport is $2.82 per gallon.

�We have the cheapest fuel around,� Fenton said, adding the airport is in fact a money-maker for the city. �The airport nets about $6,000 in profit from fuel sales. This airport has never been a cash drain on the city.�

On an average year, he said, the airport earns $15,000 more than it spends. This year�s budget indicates total revenues of $187,876, which includes a $67,500 FAA grant for the master plan, and a $70,00 grant for tree removal, according to Tomsic. Total estimated airport expenditures for 2003 are $190,103.98.

�Because of the trees we�re likely to break even,� Fenton said. According to Meredith Riley, the city�s finance director, $15,275 is the ending cash and investment amount for 2003, to date.

Ten years ago, in 1993, the ending amount was $6,446, and decreased to $4,457 in 1996. However, in 1997, the amount increased to $35,261 and grew to $77,506 in 2001. By 2002, the ending budget amount was $12,274.

�I don�t know if that�s an absolute essential service for a community to have an airport. Most of them do not,� said Tomsic, when asked if Blaine needs an airport. �I think though that the airport is a facility that can attract. It serves, number one, the purpose of allowing airplanes to fly in and out of your city for pleasure and for business,� he said. �I think the fact that not all communities have an airport, that those who do are in a bit of a unique situation.�

The airport has been an issue of some controversy in the community for many years, including two elections to do away with the airport, he said, and in both instances they failed. �I would like to see the community come to a consensus about the airport,� he said.

Carruthers could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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