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Lanesboro City Council proceeds with Coffee Street bridge project


Fri, Nov 22nd, 2002
Posted in Features

A packed room, a court stenographer, and a couple of lawyers—the elements of a courtroom drama? Wrong, these were all part of an extremely eventful November 18th meeting of the Lanesboro City Council. Citizens packed the meeting room for the discussion of the Coffee Street Bridge project.

Rick Engstrom of WHKS engineering presented the bids to the council. Minowa Construction’s low bid of $353,022 was more than $100,000 above the estimate for the project, with the city’s share of the entire project ending up in the neighborhood of $136,000 to $141,000, an increase of more than $50,000. An unexpected $25,000 non-participating (the state will not contribute to this) structural removal cost fell solely onto the city’s shoulders. In addition, there was a great discrepancy in costs on various sections of the bids.

"I wish I could explain the numbers better, but I can’t. It’s just a numbers game," Engstrom said, stating that the bidding companies just choose different areas of the bid to bank their numbers.

The possibility of rejecting all bids and rebidding the project was rejected after Engstrom pointed out that nothing could change on the specifications because of the state involvement and the time frame was too short.

Bridge fundraiser Julia Borgen stated from the audience, " I really believe the people will double their donations, and there are some businesses willing to do pretty large donations once it gets going."

Councilwoman Peggy Hanson suggested that since both the bridge and the clinic building are capital assets of the city, perhaps some of the proceeds from the clinic’s sale could be used to fund the bridge project. Ultimately, the council voted to accept the low bid with the provision that the referendum only pay the original amount ($98,000), leaving further fundraising and the clinic sale to cover the additional cost. The next hurdle comes as the state considers whether it will cover an additional $85,000. Engstrom gave 50/50 odds on that happening, mentioning the new state fiscal year might help open the state purse strings. If the state rejects the bid, the city would need to decide if it would cover the extra cost itself.

The vote to proceed with the project was 4-1 with Council member Jerome Halvorson voting in opposition.

Lanesboro Center for the Arts

John Torgrimson and Mike McGrath, city appointed representatives to the Lanesboro Center for the Arts (LCA), appeared before the council to ask for permission for the art project to continue following the withdrawal of Cornucopia Art Center and Commonweal Theatre Company from the project. Torgrimson, emphasizing that the project is an economic development project first and an arts project second, cited the need to look at alternative ways as to how a regional art center might be built.

The council responded by endorsing a reconfigured five member LCA Board of Directors and agreeing to a joint meeting with Senators Bob Kierlin, Representative Greg Davids, the City Council, and the LCA Board of Directors on December 4th to further discuss the project. In refocusing, LCA will develop other courses of action, using community input and visiting other cities with similar projects.

Cheese Factory

Lawyer Sean O’Flaherty representing the Bank of Cashton was at the meeting to "answer questions" the council might have concerning the cheese factory litigation. Stating that the bank has an interest in the resolution of the dispute, O’Flaherty brought along a court stenographer to "pin down the city’s position on the cheese factory."

The dispute between the bank and the city stems from River Valley Cheese buying the building on a contract from the city. The bank in turn loaned the company operating funds. but the River Valley Cheese company eventually closed its doors because of operating losses.

The bank believes it has the right to take over the tenancy of the cheese company, while the city contends that the company defaulted on its purchase agreement.

City lawyer Tom Manion advised the council that the withdrawal of Commonweal and Cornucopia from LCA has changed the immediacy of the cheese factory site for the Center. The factory was previously identified as a possible site for the proposed art center.

When asked whether the Lanesboro Center for the Arts was still interested in the cheese factory as a site for the regional art center, John Torgrimson of the LCA said that it has always been the position of the board that the city should proceed with the litigation, to secure their right to the property.

With less urgency felt, the council appeared willing to consider a discussion on alternative dispute resolution. City attorney Manion recommended any decisions should be made in a closed meeting because of attorney/client privilege. The meeting was later closed to consider those options. (The Journal has since learned that the city will continue with litigation to settle the dispute between the city and the Bank of Cashton over the building; court is scheduled for early January).

Other Matters

Other council business that brought citizens to the meeting included discussions on the policy on repayment of the Small Cities grant. The council passed a new policy that allows pro-rating of repayment with verification from a doctor of the medical necessity of a homeowner’s move. This new policy is not retroactive and is at the council’s discretion.

•Andy Drake and Fred Carlson representative Jon Dahle-Melsaether were at the meeting to answer the council’s questions on the street blacktopping costs. When Mayor John Brose asked why the Norway Drive problems weren’t noticed at the time of bidding, Dahle-Melsaether replied that streets change over a period of five months. Drake assured the council he would have stopped the blacktopping if he had known it was going over budget that much.

The council, after being assured that the city indeed received the blacktop and labor billed for, decided to consider it necessary work done for next year’s budget.

After council member Jerome Halvorson suggested, "You could sharpen your pencil and we could do more blacktopping next year," Dahle-Melsaether offered 3% APR interest on the remaining unpaid balance. When council member Hal Cropp countered with a 0% APR, Dahle-Melsaether agreed.

•Bob Thompson was present to hear the discussion on the brush dump policy. City Administrator Barb Hoyhtya told the council a chipper was available from Fillmore County to chip branches; larger branches could be cut up for the campgrounds firewood. A sign would be posted at the brush dump detailing the hours of operation and allowable materials, and an attendant would be present whenever the dump was open.

Thompson suggested the creation of a compost pile that area farmers could haul away.

Andy Drake interjected that if citizens had wanted the fire at the dump put out, they merely needed to call the fire department.

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