Backus: Council decides to turn off PAPI lights at runway

The lights were part of a contentious debate with landowners; however, the decision was made due to budget reasons.


After months of deliberation, the Backus City Council on Monday, Dec. 7, made an unexpected decision relating to the Backus Municipal Airport's nearly brand new precision approach path indicator lights. Council members agreed to turn off and remove the lights.

The lights had been the subject of a somewhat controversial issue between the city and a family living on the edge of town adjacent to the runway approach. Due to aviation guidelines that changed during the city's original PAPI project, trees on the Risk family property would need to be removed for visibility. The Risk family objected to the tree removal.

While disabling the PAPI lights was always one of the options to resolve the issue, it seemed an unlikely choice until the council learned that in addition to approach guidelines, Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division also changed its policy on using grant money for flight check procedures to certify those PAPI systems.

The council initially believed it could use MnDOT Aeronautics grant funding to pay for the flight check procedures. That is no longer the case.

Between the disagreement with the Risk family and the $6,500 flight check required every other year, the council decided that the best course of action was to turn off and disconnect the PAPI system so the parts could be stored. The possibility of selling the lights was mentioned.


Council members reasoned that the airport currently does not create any profits that could go toward paying for the flight checks and they did not feel comfortable budgeting taxpayer money toward the semi annual flight checks.

There are still eight trees on the Risk property within the flight approach surface; however, without the PAPI system, five trees no longer need to be removed, including one tree roughly 200 years old.

The council agreed to turn off the PAPI system and apply for grant funding to pay to remove the remaining eight trees located in the approach, as well as their replacement with comparable species of trees that are unlikely to grow high enough to be obstructions.

In other business Monday, the council:

  • Agreed to seek a property inspection specialist to assess safety of a rental property in town that had sewage backed up in its lower level for months. City employees, along with a council member, visited the property for an initial assessment and found that the property owner has fixed the issue that caused the backup and attempted to disinfect and remove contaminants, but there are still issues with possible mold and contaminants in the furnace, water heater, stone walls and a crawl space with exposed soil. The city representatives said they did not feel qualified to make a decision except to recommend hiring a professional to assess the safety of the situation.
  • Decided to wait to send any notices to the owner of Bayside Resort requiring the owner to cease development of camping spaces and cease renting the resort's residence. The city's zoning expert was absent from the meeting, and the council and city clerk were unsure whether there were violations in expanding the property or renting the residential building. The council said the issue will be appropriately resolved before spring.
  • Agreed to speak to the city's propane provider about getting a city employee group rate on propane. The city will first speak to the League of Minnesota Cities to see if doing so is appropriate.
  • Directed a landlord to secure and eventually demolish the remainder of a building across from city hall that was destroyed in a fire. The council is concerned that curious children might try to enter the building.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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