Pat Harris is being appointed to represent St. Paul on the Metropolitan Airports Commission at one of the most controversial points in the city's relationship with the airport authority.
The governor appoints most of the 13 members of the commission, but the Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors have one appointment each. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced the appointment Wednesday.
Harris, first elected in 1999, replaces Dick Long, who served on the commission for the past 10 years. Harris represents the part of the city closest to the airport, including a swath of the city directly under the flight path from one of the major runways.
"He'll be a great representative for the city on the MAC," Coleman said.
As it happens, the commission is in the process of seeking land-use changes with the city that would allow a flood wall to be built around Holman Field, the airport in downtown St. Paul run by the MAC.
The Federal Aviation Administration committed more than $20 million to the project Tuesday, according to Gary Warren, the MAC's airside development director. The commission's Finance, Development and Environmental Committee approved the project's financing plan Wednesday.
The project has faced stiff opposition by neighbors and the City Council because of concerns that flood protection would draw more flights to the airport and increase airplane traffic and noise over the city, among other things.
Harris, however, has been a supporter of the proposal in the past and has voted to move the project forward.
Coleman said Wednesday that Harris' appointment isn't indicative of his own position on the matter. A 4-3 vote by the council to block the flood project — responding to an appeal of an approval of the project by the Planning Commission, for instance — could put the decision about the dike on Coleman's desk, for him alone to decide, in coming weeks.
Coleman said Wednesday he hasn't arrived at a position yet. "I have concerns about it," he said.
The Planning Commission on Friday is expected to consider a split recommendation by the body's zoning committee on whether to approve the MAC's application to permit the Holman Field dike.
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The St. Paul Planning Commission on Friday tabled a decision about the Metropolitan Airports Commission plan to put a dike around Holman Field to protect it from flooding.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration verbally committed $20 million for the Metropolitan Airports Commission project.
Environmentalists say that the dike will adversely affect the river and that neighbors fear having flood protection will promote increased operations at the airport and lead to more noise.
Mayor Chris Coleman wasn't sounding dissuaded by fears expressed about changes to Holman Field.