A years-long conversation regarding the trees along the southern border of the Isle Airport once more took flight at Isle City Hall during the city’s regular July 9 meeting. The height of these trees interferes with clearance for aircrafts taking off from the airport’s runway, an issue which has prevented the airport from achieving public status. The issue has previously proven contentious; the August 19, 2015 edition of the Messenger reported that the airport committee had met with the neighboring property owner, who was then “unwilling to go forward with the work.” At an October 2018 city council meeting, councilor Don Dahlen, also a member of the city airport commission, suggested air easement rights on the airport property could require the removal of obstructions such as the trees. The July 9 meeting saw city attorney Damien Toven verifying that these easement rights did exist and were enforceable.
Dahlen began his report by stating the trees bordering the airport’s south end were “a safety issue that gets worse every year, because those trees aren’t getting any shorter. They are getting taller.” He brought forward the airport committee’s recommendation that the city enforce the property’s air easement to remove the obstruction.
In response to Dahlen’s recommendation, mayor Rod Schultz called upon city attorney Damien Toven. “It’s correct,” Toven said. “Based on what’s on paper and what has been shown to me, the city does have an air easement.” Toven’s own recommendation, if the council was choosing to enforce the easement, would be to bring an action of declaratory judgment against the landowners that needed to have work done on their properties.
He also recommended that the city engineer go out and clearly delineate the airport boundaries and ascertain the height at which the trees needed to be removed. He was uncertain if the costs of the removal would be reimbursable. Once the city had determined which lots had trees or structures that posed risk, Toven said, “The preferably first step is to get them to comply by agreement.” As city attorney, Toven could reach out to the property owners and make them aware of the city’s easement rights. If the owners did not comply, further action could be taken.
“But it’s fairly clear that the city does have easement rights,” Toven reiterated. “It does have the right to go on and remove obstructions if the property owners won’t comply.” Toven asked Dahlen how many of the lots had trees that were encroaching, and Dahlen replied that the parcels containing trees were across three lots, each with a different property owner.
Pat Moenkhaus, another representative of the airport commission in attendance at the night’s meeting, explained that the needed clearance at the property boundary was estimated around 23 feet, but many of the trees were around 75 feet. “That’s a real hazard,” he added. “In my view, we’d be remiss knowing we have a course to eliminate that hazard and not taking it.”
Toven was unable to provide a cost for enforcing the easement, as it depended on how contentious the enforcement proved. “It seems like a straightforward situation to me,” Toven said, “but you never know how somebody might respond.”
Schultz recommended that the issue be tabled until next month so that more “investigating” could be done. City engineer Tim Ramerth, referencing the discussion that occurred last fall, said that information and data that had been collected could be presented at next month’s meeting. No council motion was made beyond Schultz request to table the topic until next month.