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Alexandria pursues plan to keep geese away from airport runways

Will a plan to make Alexandria's airport safer by keeping geese away from the runways work or will it be a wild goose chase?

The Alexandria City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to give it a try. It authorized the Alexandria Airport Commission to call for bids on a 10-year contract that would transform 120 acres of the 205 acres of cropland at the airport into grassland - 60 acres this year and 60 acres the next.

The successful bidder would be responsible for planting and maintaining the grass and in turn, would be allowed to plant crops (not corn, however) on the remaining 85 acres of airport land.

Airport Manager Todd Roth told the council that according to information he researched on the Internet, geese will avoid the long grass, fearing that predators will be lurking there.

Right now, the geese are gathering in large numbers on the airport's cropland and the city can't go after them because it would damage the crops, Roth said.

The number of geese ranges from the hundreds to the thousands. They typically land on the north side of runway 13/31, just south of Lake Winona. They occasionally wander onto the runways and taxiways and create a significant safety hazard to aircraft operations in the air and on the ground. "Collision with geese and ingestion of geese into engines and other parts of the aircraft can have catastrophic consequences," the airport commission noted in a letter to the council.

Not everyone is convinced that planting grass along the runways will be effective.

Peter Boerner, who has been renting airport land to plant crops for more than 20 years, told the council that the geese will still land at the airport even if there is only five acres of cropland left. "It is not going to work," he said.

Boerner said long grass would also lead to rodent problems and increased fire dangers.

Boerner also didn't like how the contract specifications were written, saying that a requirement for the grass planter to have three years of experience working with natural grasses would exclude him from bidding.

Boerner said he favored a less complicated solution - either seed the entire airport land with grass or alfalfa. The geese, he said, would avoid alfalfa except for a few days after it's cut. Another solution would be to work with the State of Minnesota to allow a goose hunting season at the airport, he said.

Roth said that Boerner could bid for the contract because he could hire someone with the necessary experience to plant the grass, he said.

Roth said that the commission has been studying options at the airport since the start of the year and considered the alfalfa idea but rejected it because alfalfa would eventually deplete everything out of the soil and die.

A potential bidder, Josh Zeithamer, told the council that the airport commission spent a lot of time putting the proposal together and had done its homework. He said the specifications are modeled after the Minnesota Department of Transportation's and are fair.

Council member Owen Miller noted that the contract allows the city to terminate the agreement after five years if the grassland idea isn't working.

In other action, the council:

--Tabled an agreement with a consultant to study the possibility of building an event center in Alexandria. The cost of the study, originally estimated at $50,000, has decreased to $38,500. The city council previously voted 3-2 to contribute $10,000 to the study, joining other contributors - Otto Bremer Foundation ($20,000), Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality ($9,000) and Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission ($5,000). All totaled, that amounts to $44,000, which would cover the cost but council members raised several questions at Monday's meeting -- who would get the excess money; if Bremer's commitment was firm or if it depended on a match from other entities; and if the city's commitment was for $10,000 or "up to" $10,000. "It sounds like we are not there yet," said Virgil Batesole. Mayor Dan Ness also had concerns about the wording of the resolution to accept the donations. It stated that the study would examine a possible expansion of the Runestone Community Center or the development of comparable facilities "which may be located in Alexandria and in which the city may have an intrest." Ness said the city would have no reason to be interested in an event center that's built outside of the city.

--Gave preliminary approval to an ordinance amending the city code regarding the enforcement of public nuisances. City Attorney Tom Jacobson said the current ordinance gives violators 10 days to fix the problem while the changes would allow the city to take swift action, setting the time on the notice of violation, which is then posted, served or mailed. The changes were modeled at the League of Minnesota Cities' recommendations and the city of St. Paul's nuisance ordinance, Jacobson said. Batesole said he talked to League officials who told him that the nuisance ordinance is a pain that the League tries to steer away from. Batesole also had problems with the part of the ordinance that allows the "the City" to determine whether there is a violation. He said that could be anybody from the city who wants to start writing violations on a whim. Jacobson said the ordinance provides specific definitions of what a violation is and that the "the City" with a capital C means those who are trained to deal with nuisances, such as the building inspector, police and fire department. Jacobson said that the League hasn't shied away from nuisance laws and showed a 39-page document of their recommendations on how such laws should be written and enforced. Council member Dave Benson noted that since June, he's received several complaints about a yard in his ward that's not being maintained. It has very long grass billowing in the wind, garbage that hasn't been taken out in months and other signs of neglect yet nothing has been done. The city is still trying to notify the owner, he said. "Anything we can do to make this less cumbersome would be welcome," Benson said. The council voted 3-1 to approve the first reading of the ordinance. Batesole voted against it.

--Agreed to appoint Michael Cass as assistant city attorney. Jacobson made the request, noting that Cass recently joined the Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson law firm.

--Accepted a gift of land to the city from Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County. The undeveloped lot is at 1804 South Oak Knoll. It's mostly low-ground and wetland and is prone to flooding. By getting the land, the city will have a more direct access to a culvert from South Oak Knoll, which it plans to clean out as part of the Thomas Drive improvement project. At some point in the future, the city may also use the land for a stormwater collection pond, according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven. In related action, the city also discharged the special assessments on the property, which amounted to $3,475.

--Approved a resolution recognizing Douglas Scientific as the honoree at this year's Business and Industrial Appreciation Day in Alexandria on October 23. The award, given by the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, recognizes the company for its significant accomplishments and contributions to the area. Douglas Scientific is a rapidly growing manufacturing and biosciences company that employs about 70 people.

--Agreed to temporarily close two blocks of street and sidewalk for First Lutheran Church's Living Nativity event on Saturday, December 1. Traffic will be restricted to one way, going south, on Douglas Street between 7th and 9th Avenue.

--Agreed on a 3-1 vote to hire Justin Marthaler as a street maintenance worker, level one. He will replace one of two workers who recently left the department. The park department is also short-handed by one employee, noted City Administrator Jim Taddei. Marthaler, who had been working part-time at the fire station, will start August 14 and earn a starting salary of $3,107 a month. Batesole voted against the hiring. He had concerns about the pay, which he said was very high, and wanted to wait on filling positions in the street department until a new city engineer is hired.

--Was informed that the League of Minnesota Cities will hold a regional meeting in Perham on September 20, beginning at 1 p.m.

--Was reminded that the mayor and city council will hold open-to-the-public work sessions on the budget on August 20 at 1 p.m. and August 27 at 5 p.m.

--Was informed that an event to celebrate Alexandria's first public art, The Gathering Tree sculpture, will take place Thursday, August 23 from 4 to 5 p.m. at Big Ole Central Park. Ice cream will be served at the free event.

--Approved the following licenses: on-sale beer and wine for Grand Arbor; off-sale beer for the Freeway Tesoro convenience store; and the selling of raffle tickets at three charitable gambling events - the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association at the RCC on March 16, Alexandria chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association at the Eagles Club on November 17 and the Chain of Lakes Ducks Unlimited at Broadway Ballroom on September 14.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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