Officials: Trees endanger airport users

Published on Thu, Jul 10, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Officials: Trees endanger airport users

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

The trees are growing taller, and because of that, the airport may grow larger.

Blaine city council will discuss the logging of hundreds of trees that encroach into the Blaine Municipal Airport�s flight line at next Monday�s meeting. According to city manager Gary Tomsic, there are two likely approaches on the table: log the trees or acquire several acres, then top the trees.

There are three areas lying near the airport that contain tall trees that officials say encroach into the flight path, therefore endangering the pilots and passengers that utilize the 42-acre city airport. The specific area that city council will examine in this case is land owned by several families in the southern end of the airport � a total of about 40 acres, according to city planning records. The area contains some wetlands, one home, and 485 trees that have been declared too tall and in the way of the flight path.

Tomsic said the cost of cutting trees in this area could be as much as $200,000, possibly more. The city has already spent roughly $110,000 in legal costs and permits to address the tree issue in this area. The state division of aviation granted the city $70,000 for project costs.

�There may be additional costs such as legal fees and permit costs,� Tomsic said. �It could be more.�

A current court order states that when the area is logged, the stumps are to be pulled. Because of the wetland issue, the city is then required to restore wetlands. According to a December 2002 city memorandum, mitigation costs were estimated to be roughly $15,000 per acre, and in the end, totalling nearly $2 million.

In addition to the costs the city will incur due to logging or topping the trees, the city will discuss the acquisition of several acres. �Rather than purchase the easement, we may try to acquire the land itself,� Tomsic said. �Economically, it�s better.�

An average acre of land in that area is appraised at $3 per square foot, according to city planning records. Tomsic could not be reached as of press time with current appraisal figures, but he has said the wetland areas are worth significantly less.

The city recently advertised for companies to make a bid, in the hopes to begin work in the southern area. City council discussed the bid during a meeting last month, and Tomsic stated five companies attended a May 30 meeting held by the city.

However, when bidding time came, only one company made a bid. Colacurcio Brothers Construction presented a bid of $77,900, however, the city council unanimously decided to reject that bid and re-advertise.

Prior to the council voting, Tomsic advised them to reject the bid and the city would re-advertise. Airport commissioner Doug Fenton agreed with Tomsic�s recommendation at the meeting, but told the council that the trees needed to be cut.

�The trees are dangerous,� he said. �We have already discouraged night flying. It�s too dangerous.�

Several council members voiced safety concerns, and the possibility of an accident. �If a plane hits those trees, it�s going to be a mess,� councilman Ken Ely said.

According to Fenton, the last crash at the airport was in the mid 1980s, and it was because the trees obstructed the pilot�s view. Fenton also noted that there may be other funding alternatives for topping the trees, but didn�t feel an open meeting was the proper place for discussion.

Other encroaching areas
As for the other two areas containing tall trees that encroach into the flight path, the city has decided to take action on only one of those areas.

�There will be no action at Skallman Park,� Tomsic said. �They are obstructions, but are not as dangerous as the trees in the north and south end.�

Last March, the city of Blaine held a meeting wth property owners affected in the north end. Less than half of the affected owners showed for the meeting, and those that did wanted their trees cut. Only one wanted full removal.

Officials stated then that the city hoped to begin work in the following months, however no action has been taken yet.

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