After the Backus City Council's December meeting, council members and airport representatives found themselves on the bad side of both snowmobilers and state aeronautical officials.

At that meeting, the council denied a request by Ponto Knight Riders to officially designate a part of a city street and a path across the municipal airport as snowmobile trail after the old route became inaccessible. The council was worried that studs could damage the recently repaired asphalt street near the old school building.

In addition, crossing the flight lines where proposed at the municipal airport is against state statute and could put the airport's licensing in jeopardy. Losing that license would require the city to pay back grant funds it has received from the state over the years. And it was mentioned that if snowmobilers continued to use that route across the airport unofficially, as they have for many years, state regulators may force the airport to take action to prevent passage there, up to and including installing a fence.

The council did deny the request to create an official route; however, it did not take any action to ban passage of snowmobiles on that route.

A representative of the Minnesota Department of Transportation read the story about the Dec. 2 meeting on the Brainerd Dispatch website and contacted the airport to demand efforts be made to stop snowmobiles from crossing the flight lines. As a result, signs were erected on airport property. This upset snowmobilers.

Council member Karl Flier said Monday, Jan. 6, he was not consulted about having signs installed at the airport, but he was approached by angry snowmobilers. The signs were taken down until the council had a chance to discuss a better solution that would appease the state, and provide snowmobilers - and ATV enthusiasts in the summer - a safe route from the Paul Bunyan Trail to Highway 371 and beyond.

Possible solutions were discussed at Monday's meeting. Flier was directed to speak to members of the Ponto Knight Riders to select an agreeable route that does not cross the airport property. Flier and the rest of the council discussed a possible route. The city reviewed a state statute regarding "Operation; regulations by political subdivisions" as directed by regulators, which states that snowmobiles are banned on airport property completely; however, the same statute designates what is allowable for snowmobilers.

Statute 84.87 says that a local road authority has the ability to allow snowmobilers two-way operation of snowmobiles on either side of the right of way of a street or highway under their jurisdiction. Using these guidelines, the council determined a route near the school, which they believe will be agreeable to both parties, would lead snowmobilers along the right of way around the airport without crossing into airport property and to a safer crossing just north of the Highways 87/371 intersection.

The council believes the crossing, opposite Wren Trail Northwest, would allow a safer passage to access The Corner Store gas station on the east side of Highway 371, which was one goal of the Ponto Knight Riders in connecting the Paul Bunyan Trail to the Alpine Trail.

To appease airport regulators, the city is required to install signs banning operation of snowmobiles on the airport premises, but they plan to do so far enough inside of the airport as to not affect traffic in that road right of way outside of airport property.

In addition, signs may be installed to direct traffic along the preferred, legal route. This combined with possible groomed trails in the right of way may resolve the issue of snowmobiles operating within the airport.

The airport has a perimeter fence in its 10-year plan; however, winter limits actions the city can take until the ground thaws in the spring and so signs and an alternate route, they hope, will be evidence that they are attempting to comply as well as they can through the winter.

The city hopes the resolution appeases both snowmobilers and airport regulators at least until more permanent solutions can be reached.

In other business Monday, the council:

  • Accepted a $250 donation from Sacred Heart Catholic Church to the Backus Fire Department as well as a $100 donation from Steve and Katy Botz, a $4,400 donation from Eveland's Inc., a $100 donation from First National Bank and $50 donation from Lois Watkins.
  • Accepted a $1,000 donation from the Backus American Legion on behalf of the Backus Emergency Medical Responders to buy equipment for the planned expansion of services in the Ponto Lake Township area.
  • Learned a property owner who partook of a property rehab revolving loan passed away before the end of the seven-year term of the loan. If the property owner had not sold the property within that seven-year time frame the loan would have been fully forgiven; however, because the property owner died the property will now be sold after three years and part of the loan must be repaid.

The property has only received one offer for purchase, which is low. The property owner requested that the city accept a reduced repayment of $9,143.20 or 80% of what would otherwise be due. The council agreed to these terms.