The Backus City Council's next regular meeting Monday, Sept. 13, will be too late to consider pending litigation regarding obstructions near the municipal airport and too late to submit a budget.

So the council agreed Monday, Aug. 2, to schedule two additional public meetings: 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, for a variance request and likely abatement hearing; and Tuesday, Sept. 7, to discuss the annual budget.

The council could hold the meeting for the variance request and abatement hearing later, if they submitted an extension. Without the extension, the next meeting could potentially be outside of the 60-day window in which they were required to reply.

At that meeting, the council will discuss the city's decision to require the removal of trees from a property adjacent to the municipal airport. The Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics division informed the council in the fall of 2020 that several trees on the Risk property near the south end of the airport were so tall as to obstruct the airport runway approach.

Some of the trees were only considered obstructions if the city continued to use its Precision Approach Path Indicator Lights, while others were obstructions to the airport approach overall.

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The property owner argued against the tree removal and the city sought legal counsel.

Attorney Dan Hawley, of Gammello-Pearson, laid out the city's options in April for requiring an abatement to remove the trees. Since then the council has received an appeal and obstruction variance request from the property owner. Hawley updated the council on its options for moving forward at Aug. 2 regular meeting during a closed discussion for pending litigation.

The council reopened the meeting and Hawley helped to explain the next steps for the public meeting. Because the property owner has appealed, the city must hold a public hearing for the variance request. Assuming the council denies the variance, which seeks to allow the trees to remain, the council then must have an abatement hearing during which the property owner and the city may argue their stances at a public meeting.

If the city continues to pursue abatement and the property owner still resists, then the decision would go to a district court where a judge would be tasked with granting the city permission to enter the property to remove the trees, or not.

The MnDOT Aeronautics division has stressed the importance of the removal of the trees and has not indicated other options for continued use of the airport if the trees that obstruct the approach are not removed.

If the airport loses its certification, the city and its residents stand to lose financially, due to grant funding that it would be forced to repay in the event that the airport ceases to be used as an airport.

Hawley estimated the public hearings combined could take approximately an hour.

In addition to abatement considerations, the council had to set a budget meeting before their regular September meeting because the state requires the city's budget before Sept. 13. In addition to normal expenses, the council is expected to discuss additional income from earlier in the year when water from the fire hydrants was being sold to the crews working on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project. The city had been charging the company by load of water; however, the city has now ceased selling water because of the drought.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.