Eureka Township in rural Dakota County is on the brink of losing a significant chunk of its airport to the burgeoning city of Lakeville.
Officials from the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), the government entity that owns and operates the Airlake Airport, want to secure municipal sewer and water services for the small reliever airport. Lakeville can provide those utilities while the township currently cannot.
The MAC plans to petition Lakeville to annex 120 acres of airport property, with a goal to annex 200 acres more in the future.
While several township officials are resigned to the airport’s annexation, at least one township supervisor fears that it will accelerate the end of Eureka.
“I think it’s foolish of us to throw away the airport to Lakeville,” said Butch Hansen, a supervisor on the Eureka Township Board. “If we can keep the airport happy, they’ll stay.”
Gary Schmidt, director of reliever airports for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the airport needs city sewer and water services to remain viable.
“I don’t think we have a choice anymore,” Schmidt said. “We’ve seen a migration of tenants to other airports.”
Lakeville officials say they’d be glad to acquire more airport land because it may spur further development in the adjacent Airlake Industrial Park.
The fast-growing suburb also would gain a small amount of tax revenue and water and sewer hookup fees, said Justin Miller, Lakeville city administrator.
Hansen said Eureka stands to lose much more than tax revenue, now and in years to come.
“It opens the door to future annexation down the road,” he said. “Eureka Township is no longer going to be able to sit back and be a rural community.”
Doing it themselves
Airlake — which sits on 425 acres — straddles Lakeville and neighboring Eureka Township. The airport, used mostly by recreational pilots, has more than 33,000 takeoffs and landings a year, according to MAC data.
Lakeville acquired nine acres of the airport through annexations in 1975 and 2003. The airstrip and most of Airlake’s hangars are in the township.
Obtaining city water and sanitary sewer services for hangar tenants has been a goal for decades, Schmidt said, though the most recent round of discussions started in 2015.
Part of the reason is environmental. When groundwater near the Lake Elmo Airport became polluted in the late 1980s, the airport got blamed. That accusation was proved false, but in the meantime, the MAC required hangar owners at reliever airports to close out their wells and septic systems to prevent seepage into groundwater.
That left Airlake hangar tenants with no drainage system to dispose of plane-washing chemicals and nowhere to go to the bathroom or shower. That kept the southern part of the airport from developing, Schmidt said.
Eureka Township officials talked about furnishing water and sewer, Hansen said, but discussions with Airlake foundered. He said he wants the township to get county permission to dig a well for Airlake, and to hook up to a sewer line in Elko New Market.
Hansen said the township needs the airport for taxes it pays — about $30,000 a year — and hopes it may prompt other development.
Fellow township supervisor Carrie Jennings, who works in the water policy field, said Hansen’s ideas have been explored but aren’t feasible.
The land never felt like part of the township anyway, and the loss of tax revenue is small, Jennings said.
“I feel like we’ve exhausted all our options so I’m resigned,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do to stop them, in my opinion.”
Once the airports commission files its annexation petition — perhaps as soon as next month — it will go to the City Council for a public hearing and approval.
Schmidt, the MAC’s reliever airports director, said he’s “fairly certain” Lakeville will go through with the annexation.
“We are going to proceed down this path that we’re on,” Schmidt said. “However, if Eureka has a change of heart we are open to it.”
Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik said he feels bad for townships that lose their tax base and land, but “the county has no role in this one way or the other.”
Lakeville last annexed land from Eureka Township in 2008 when it acquired 99 acres for its industrial park, said David Olson, Lakeville’s community and economic development director. The city of 60,000 has no plans to make additional acquisitions of the township, Olson said.
But development is sprawling southward all the time, Hansen said, and he worries about the township’s future as it loses another parcel.
“They’re infringing on our borders constantly,” Hansen said. “Communities are going to eat us up.”