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Airport improvements planned

While the Wadena City Council spent most of its special meeting Monday discussing the southeast infrastructure project, it also approved an engineering agreement for airport improvements and set a hearing for public input on a tax abatement proposal that aims to spur development of properties left vacant after the 2010 tornado.

Airport revamp

The council unanimously approved an agreement with St. Paul-based engineering firm SEH to handle project design, bidding, grant applications and construction oversight for a slate of airport improvements.

The five projects - rehabbing the entrance road and parking lot, installing an automatic hydraulic pivot gate, repairing cracks in the general aviation apron, improving pavement around a hanger and studying wildlife (required before building a new fence) are estimated to cost $615,000, including $110,000 in total engineering fees.

“These are just piecemeal projects to help rehabilitate the airport,” SEH engineer Shawn McMahon told the council.

The improvements would be paid for with federal, state and local money. The local share is projected to be $101,000, but if pending state legislation were to pass this session, it could be reduced to about $50,000.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said because the city only budgeted $30,000 for 2014 airport improvements, the city should tap its ample reserves to cover the difference. Ideally, he said, the budgeted money would have covered the local share of a $300,000 project (the Federal Aviation Administration would cover 90 percent) to install a wildlife-resistant fence, but the agency wasn’t ready to support it. So rather than forgoing the $150,000 the federal government earmarked for the airport in 2014, officials decided to pursue projects lower down the priority list.

“It gets a little challenging to find ways to spend that money,” Swenson said. “We have a fairly new airport.”

Monday’s action allows SEH to begin design the projects and pursue grants. But if the local share turns out to be more expensive than the city council is comfortable spending, Swenson said, it can cancel or delay the improvements.

Tax abatements

The city is targeting 29 lots - left vacant after the 2010 tornado swept through town - for redevelopment. Nearly all of the properties are along 7th and 8th Streets in southwest Wadena.   

Under the draft policy, the city, county and school districts would offer a 10-year property tax abatement for new construction on these parcels in 2014, 2015 or 2016. The improvements would need to be completed within a year of receiving a permit and have a minimum valuation of $75,000. The maximum size for multi-family housing would be four units.

“It was generally enthusiastically received by both the county and the school board,” said Mayor Wayne Wolden, who presented the plan to those bodies.  

The council agreed to set a public hearing for 5 p.m. June 10 in the council chambers.

City officials hope to coordinate the meeting with the school and county boards, “so all elected officials can hear the same concerns and residents only need to attend one hearing,” Dean Uselman, planning and zoning director, wrote in an email.