Landswap proposed as way out of audit problems

Published on Thu, Aug 26, 2004 by eg Olson

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Land swap proposed as way out of audit problems

By Meg Olson

To avoid trouble with the state auditor the city is preparing a land swap that would give airport land to the streets department in exchange for street land that the airport has operated on for years.
“We don’t want this to become an audit finding,” city manager Gary Tomsic told city council, asking them to approve the land swap idea in principle at their August 23 meeting. “This gives us something to give the auditors.”

The problem was brought to the council’s attention several years ago by a citizen who complained the Blaine airport should be paying for using land that is officially street right of way. While the city owns both the airport and the streets, Ray Wilkett maintained it wasn’t right to go to the citizens for more money to build streets when the airport used street land for free. The state auditor agreed. “It’s sort of like taking money out of one pocket and putting it into the other but it is the law and the auditors are concerned,” Tomsic said.

“We think we have a plan that would have advantages for the airport and for public and private interests,” Tomsic said. The plan is to exchange 118,000 square feet of land south of the city’s public works facility – currently in airport hands – for 92,000 square feet of street right of way within the airport.

Since the low, wet parcel abutting the public works yard is unlikely to be appropriate for street use, another swap is envisioned. The city would use the parcel to build a regional stormwater retention facility, “constructed with stormwater funds and that would include the cost of the land,” Tomsic explained. The street fund would get the money for the land from the city’s stormwater utility, which collects a flat fee from residential users and a fee from commercial users based on how much impervious surface they create.

The stormwater utility would then own the land and facility and charge users to send their stormwater there. The airport would be one of those users, perhaps along with other businesses that did not want to handle the runoff from roofs and parking lots on-site, as they are now required to do, taking up valuable development space with retention ponds. “Conceivably we would look at all the manufacturing area along Odell Road,” Tomsic said. “Rather than having a whole bunch of little systems we would have one that’s easier to monitor and maintain,” added public works director Steve Banham.

Coming full circle, the city street department could also use the facility. “There’s a lot of synergy between stormwater and streets too,” Banham said, adding “The stormwater collection system is often associated with streets.” Before the creation of a city stormwater utility, both streets and stormwater were part of the same fund.
Tomsic told council that their approval paved the way for the city to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of using the land for stormwater retention. If the idea bore out and the airport master plan didn’t come up with any conflicts to having the facility adjacent to the airport, Tomsic said staff would come back with more concrete plans for the land swap and the stormwater facility.

In other airport matters, Blaine city council unanimously approved selling the timber it takes down at the end of the airport runway for just under $40,000. At their meeting, council voted unanimously to accept an offer to purchase the timber from Bow Hill Mill Company.
The company will remove the trees from city and privately owned land surrounding the approaches to the airport runway. The trees have been deemed a safety risk as they encroach into the airport’s airspace.