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Rushford runs into MnDOT stumbling block

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Sep 27th, 2013
Posted in Rushford Government

By Kirsten Zoellner

The massive Highway 43 project slated for Rushford, Minn. in 2014 continues to create headaches for the city. Already dealing with having to give up the city’s main thoroughfare for the duration of the project, it now seems that the decision over a route bypass is being haggled over.

The city had acquired verbal agreement with MnDOT personnel for the bypass, which was slated to run from Highway 43/North Mill Street, west down Pine Meadows Lane and turning onto Eiken Drive, east on Nannestad Lane, and continuing south on North Prairie Street before turning east again on East Park Street. Given engineering caution that such a bypass could cause significant damage to the streets, the city spent $46,000 sealcoating the route as a proactive measure. “We said, ‘That’ll be our bypass. We’ll sealcoat, then MnDOT can come back and mill and overlay,’” said City Administrator Steve Sarvi. “Then, they got someone new in the office and they asked, ‘Do you have it in writing?’ If they’re going to play that way, that’s no way to do business.”

“It’s our intention to prohibit all trucks and divert them away from the city,” added Sarvi. “That’s where we got into a contest with MnDOT. We can’t tear up street, then go back and repair, having to assess for street repairs. That’s not fair.” Details are still being worked out for truck traffic originating within the city, as well, with stress being put on finishing areas in front of R-P Schools and Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator first.

MnDOT will contribute $1.5 million to the project, but no more. The logistics of another route involve too narrow streets, hills, and just 2 inches of pavement over a crushed rock base on a majority of side streets, which would be “pulverized,” according to Sarvi.

The city will continue to meet with MnDOT and the ADA to go through the bypass details. “We will have to change bypass route slightly,” cautioned Sarvi.

In what’s been another extremely drawn-out process, the city is working with Otomo Engineering and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to iron out issues with the John Dammen North Mill Street property. A court hearing was held recently in Preston, Minn. with the MPCA, the State Attorney General’s Office, and Fillmore County demanding that the failing system be brought up to code. Now, three years after having the private septic system declared as failing by the state, Dammen has been court ordered to correct the system in 60 days or face administrative fines.

According to City Clerk Kathy Zacher, sanitary sewer and water utilities were extended near the area in late 2011. The city has offered several options including bringing services to the property or utilizing a holding tank as an interim solution, none of which were deemed acceptable by the property owner.

Following the court order, Dammen has now presented a signed petition to the city for local improvement, including having municipal sewer and water services extended to property line. With the petition, Dammen waives the preliminary hearing requirements, agrees to be assessed for the cost of the improvements against his property, and agrees to pay the cost as apportioned by the city pursuant to a payment agreement. A special draft assessment has been provided, but the final agreement will be brought to council at a later date. Dammen’s assessment will be paid over 10 years at 5 percent with the first payment payable with 2014 taxes.

Engineer’s drawings from January 2012 detail the utility extensions for the area, which includes an oversized 8 inch sewer pipe and 6 inch water main will be placed to the eastern side of the property. The oversized pipe would allow for for a gravity sewer line, eliminating the need for a grinder pump to be installed on the property. The estimated price tag for the extension is $76,140. The purpose of agreement is to specifically assess the cost for the service extensions.

The estimated construction cost for Dammen’s water service is $5,939 and sewer, $7,647, for a total of $13,586. Dammen is strictly responsible for “Sewer and water service laterals including all obligations under a construction contract for such work, all necessary easements, meeting all county and MPCA codes or requirements, and bringing the water line lateral into his residence, complete with the installation of a city-owned water meter and remote reader.”

According to the paperwork, the property owner “Will be compelled to activate the city’s water system within his home at the time his existing well fails or requires and reconstruction or repair.” For now, however, it seems the city may be allowing Dammen to continue to use his private well until it is needed.

The city will pay $9,500, to be held in escrow, for the utility easement required for the project. The funds will be applied to the lateral material and labor costs for connecting to the sewer and water mains. After installation, prior to payout of the easement funds, Dammen must “provide the city with a contractor’s construction statement identifying the amount to be paid, the city’s final inspection report, any and all contractor lien waivers, written authorization for the city to pay the contractor directly.”

A 30 foot easement will be required of neighboring property owner Mike Dammen. Looking at a variety of options for making sure the city gets fair compensation from the utility improvement, will have special assessments for two lots owned by Mike Dammen, deferring the assessments until such a time as the property was divided and sold as smaller residential lots. This action would protect the city’s investment and ensure compensation. “If you’re going to do assessments on the properties, you need to do it now,” advised City Attorney Terry Chiglo.

The city attorney will draft correspondence to MPCA to show the project is progressing. A public hearing will be held October 15 with public hearing for assessments in December.

“We know we have an issue and we’re trying to resolve it in the most economical way,” added Sarvi. “Are you agreeable to this John?”

“I have to,” Dammen replied. “After the court, I have 60 days to get this done. Yes, the sooner the better.”

Another key to the project is Phase II and Phase III. The first allows for extension of the service to adjoining and future homeowners, even if they live within the City of Rushford Village limits. These properties could also be assessed, reducing the overall cost of the entire project. The third phase would allow services to continue north to the Himlie Business Park, which would address noted water flow issues in the area.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Tuesday, October 15, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. Please note the day change to accommodate for the holiday. The public is encouraged to attend.

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