Airport proposal draws response, new committee to be created

Published on Thu, Aug 14, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Airport proposal draws response, new committee to be created

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

City officials revealed two developments at Monday�s city council meeting concerning the Blaine Municipal Airport: the land proposal has drawn a response and a citizens committee will be formed.

The city of Blaine recently presented a $300,000 purchase proposal to Robert Carruthers, the owner of 5.43 acres lying near the southern end of the airport. These acres have been condemned by the city, as they contain tall trees that encroach into the airport�s flight path.

Carruthers, who was given until last Friday to respond to the proposal said the city presented him with an offer of $300,000. However, he sent the proposal back to the city, via his Bellingham attorney Larry Daugert, requesting $310,000.

�If represented with a condemnation suit, I would say $300,000 is fine,� Carruthers said. �But if it�s not (a condemnation suit), okay, then it�s $310,000. I want $10,000 to cover the legal costs.�

Carruthers said he has no interest in selling his land, which includes wetlands and a single-family home, to the city. �This has been going on for more than five years. I�d be happy if they (the city) just went away,� he said. �But I�m not going to be stupid. Why should I spend a lot of money fighting them?�

He has been in and out of court with the city of Blaine for several years now, and said he has spent $10,000 fighting the condemnation of his land, which is lined with trees, including about 50 redwoods planted by his stepfather�s father.

The trees, Carruthers said, were planted in rows around the land�s perimeter many years ago. �It�s like a park and that�s what is so nice about it,� he said about the land. �It�s been in the family for about 80 years.�

Until several years ago, his parents lived there; however, Carruthers now owns the property. The home is currently rented, he said, and the tenant is not related to the family.

Appraisals, mitigation costs
�It (the land) was appraised at $260,000 a couple of years ago,� Carruthers said, noting it was appraised at least twice in the last few years.

When recently asked about the land�s last appraisal date and worth, city manager Gary Tomsic said it had been appraised two years ago and the rough cost of �securing the easement from Carruthers is approximately a couple hundred thousand dollars.�

In response to Carruthers, city attorney Jon Sitkin declined to comment on the proposal numbers. �I don�t think the parties should debate nor negotiate through the press,� he said.

Should Carruthers and the city not reach an agreement through the land proposal, Sitkin said the city will move toward condemnation. �We�re going to be back and acting and pursuing condemnation action and permits for the removal of the trees,� Sitkin said.

Because Carruthers� land contains wetlands, the city would incur mitigation costs to some degree. A current court order states that the city has to log the area, stumps and all.

The city has already spent over $110,000 in court costs, engineering and legal fees, and permits dealing with these acres and several around it. The city, Sitkin said, is trying to purchase the land to save costs. If the city was to own the land, it would only cut the trees, saving costs. Should the city not be able to purchase the land, it will have to log the area, and then purchase other lands to re-create the wetlands they have destroyed.

�It�s far cheaper for them (the city) to do that,� Carruthers said about the city buying the land versus having to undergo logging and mitigation costs. �But I don�t think they�ve (the city) been honest. It�s a poor use of the taxpayers money.�

Airport commissioner Doug Fenton said he could not comment on the city�s offer to Carruthers, since it is a matter dealt with by the council in executive session and, as such, is confidential. �I can say, however, that I hope the issues between us can be resolved one way or another very soon so that we can get on with removing the trees in the flight path,� Fenton said. �If we acquire Mr. Carruthers� property, we should be able to move quite quickly to solve the tree encroachment problem.�

According to Sitkin, the city would save money by purchasing the land, but are now estimating mitigation costs. �We would avoid a lot of mitigation costs. Purchasing the land would be easier,� he said. �The city is in the process of estimating mitigation costs. We have held off on that so far because we wanted to purchase the land first.�

According to Tomsic, 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.

Once the trees are cut, or logged, any money from the sales of these trees would go directly to the Carruthers family, as well as the Klein family, a neighboring property owner who also owns encroaching trees.

Costs incurred so far
There are a total of 485 trees in the southern end of the airport that have been identified as too tall. There are several more in the northern area, near B, C and D streets.

The estimated cost of alleviating the tree encroachment issue, should the city purchase Carruthers land could reach $500,000.

According to city records, $110,672 has already been spent in permits, court costs and legal fees dealing with trees in the southern end. This number is likely to increase, Tomsic said, as the city incurs additional legal fees and court costs. There have been no costs, other than public works time, in the northern end.

Public works director Steve Banham said about 120 hours of public works time has been spent on the tree issue. The salaried public works employee who performed the work, makes $4,237 a month, roughly $24.45 an hour, according to finance director Meredith Riley. In perspective, time spent in public works has cost $2,934.

Tree removal work could cost around $77,900; however there is no specific estimate available for this work, as only one work bid has been received. Colacurcio Brothers Construction presented the city with a $77,900 bid for removal work last spring. That bid was rejected by city council to re-advertise for additional bids.

Committee to be formed
Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt announced at Monday�s council meeting that the city will be creating a citizens committee, called the blue ribbon committee, to focus on the airport, similar to the Citizens Wastewater Advisory Committee (CWAC) that deals with sewer issues.

Schugt said the final details of the committee are still being worked out; however, he and council members Ken Ely and John Liebert have been working on the idea.

�I think we need to have a group of citizens to collect various data and come back to council,� he said. �This committee will collect rumors, do some visioning, and report back to council. Somehow we need to bring in some conclusion in the foreseeable future.�

Liebert said the CWAC committee seems to be working in relation to the city�s sewer issues, and also feels this committee would benefit the community.

�This appears to be a process for the community that is working,� Liebert said. �We thought that it would be a good idea for citizens to come together to that challenge.�

Airport commissioner Doug Fenton said he agrees with the committee, as it has the potential to resolve much of the uncertainty surrounding the airport and its future in the community.

�If the committee objectively seeks out the facts regarding the costs of the airport versus the benefits derived from it, I am confident that they will reach a conclusion that will reflect the best interests of the community as a whole,� Fenton said. �A key to the success of the committee will be to select members who have not already made up their mind where they stand on the airport issue, so they will be able to conduct their research and deliberations in an objective, unbiased manner.�

That will not be an easy task, he said, but it is possible if the selection process is rigorous enough.

Overall Tree Costs
The cost of alleviating the overall tree encroachment issue could cost roughly $500,000, should the Carruthers proposal go through. If not, the city is likely looking at higher costs due to wetlands mitigation.

COSTS TO DATE: $110,672
Superior Court Deposit, Carruthers: $51,000
Superior Court Deposit, Klein: $22,302.25
Wilson Engineers: $8,310
Wetland Study (1/2 cost): $1,215
DNR permit: $500
Legal fees: $27,345
(Source: June 10, 2003 council document)

� PUBLIC WORKS: $2,934
Tree inventory work: 15 hours
Tree mapping work: 40 hours
GIS (Arc View) Project set up: 15 hours
Contract document preparatio: 20 hours
DNR permit exhibits: 4 hours
Rewrite Easements: 2 hours
Mark trees with colored paint: 24 hours
(Source: Public works director Steve Banham, finance director Meredith Riley)

(Source: Robert Carruthers)

(Source: June 10, 2003 council document. This was the only bid �made by Colacurcio Brothers Construction�for tree removal work. City council rejected this bid.)

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