Saginaw Backs MBS Land Buy

Saginaw leaders have endorsed the hardball tactics of MBS International Airport officials struggling to negotiate to buy land for a $48 million terminal.

City Council members agreed to support the Airport Commission if it files suit against 77-year-old farm owner Ronald F. Krauss, who has rejected purchase offers on his Freeland property.

The cities of Saginaw and Midland and Bay County each own a third of the airport. The Saginaw council is the last government body to sign off on legal action.

Both parties remain at the bargaining table for now, said Airport Manager Jeff Nagel. He refused to characterize the tone of discussions or comment on whether he is optimistic.

The Saginaw News could not reach Krauss, who owns 155 acres along Garfield in Tittabawassee Township just north of the airport.

Only Councilman Greg Branch dissented at Monday's council meeting, saying he does not take it lightly when a government compels a private owner to sell against his will.

"Government entities should be forced to do what private entities do," Branch said, "and that's to come up with a different plan - instead of, 'Well, let's condemn it.' "

Condemnation is the first step in an eminent domain seizure, a process Michigan voters dislike so much they cast ballots to defeat an expansion of the power by a 4-1 ratio in November.

Nagel has said he hopes Krauss sells voluntarily. Krauss has said the airport offers are too cheap.

County records show the property has a market value around $380,000. Neither side has commented on the details of talks.

In case of impasse, Nagel said a lawsuit is possible.

If history is any indication, the airport isn't saber-rattling. At least three times since 1941, the airport has gobbled up land from farmers to make way for runways and an air traffic control tower.

The government must pay homeowners 125 percent of fair market value when it condemns properties for public purposes, such as to build roads or schools - or airports.

MBS is planning a 77,000-square-foot terminal to replace the one dating to 1965. Most of the structure will go up on property the airport already owns.

The airport needs Krauss' property for access roads and parking, Nagel told council members.

The design should wrap up this year, with construction starting in 2008. Efforts to obtain federal funding are ongoing, Nagel said.

While he supports the airport's efforts to improve, Branch said he also sees what's important about an 80-year-old family farm. "I see the intrinsic value in that," Branch said.

A study of the aging airport found that building a terminal would prove only slightly more costly than renovating the old one, Nagel said.

However, lower operational costs in the long term make a new terminal less expensive overall, Nagel said.

The airports runs on a $5 million annual budget and serves more than 400,000 passengers a year.

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