County 1 project in Spring Valley still far from certainty
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:20 AM
The Spring Valley City Council may have voted to go ahead with the Main Street, or County Road 1, project two weeks ago, but there are still questions when, or even if, the street improvement will happen.
The holdups are the potential for a property owner to contest the assessment and Fillmore County's desire to have the city take ownership of the road once it is completed. If the exchange in ownership doesn't happen, the county is still looking at abandoning the road, according to County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud.
While the project is on hold, Fillmore County has filled in some areas with blacktop and elevated one area to keep water from pooling, temporary fixes to a road that all agree is in need of major repair if it is to continue as a street. The portion of Main Street, or County Road 1, in question is the part that extends from Section Avenue to Minnesota Highway 16, a half-mile stretch that abuts several industrial and commercial properties as well as the city's Willow Park.
Plans were for the project to be done this year, but when the city council took no action after a public hearing on Aug. 20 brought out several property owners that opposed the proposed assessments to help fund improvements on the road, the Fillmore County Highway Committee moved the project lower on its priority list.
The action by the city council Aug. 20 surprised Amunrud, who had been pushing for the project to get done at about the same time the county surfaces County Road 5 this fall. After the city refused to take action, Amunrud reported that the county was looking at abandoning the street, digging out the intersections and putting up a barricade to prevent public traffic from using the street, which connects Minnesota Highway 16 to Section Avenue.
The council took up the issue again at its Sept. 10 meeting, which again surprised Amunrud as he wasn't informed of the potential change in direction. The council voted to go ahead with the proposed improvements that include curb and gutter plus a new storm sewer to prevent flooding, which contributed to the deterioration of the street.
City Administrator Deb Zimmer reported to the council that after property owners learned of plans of the county possibly abandoning the street, they told her they were OK with the project.
The costs of the street and storm sewer total $130,005 with $32,501 of that to be assessed to property owners. The assessments, billed on property taxes, would be paid over 10 years at 4 percent interest. Another $76,680 for a water main extension and $17,550 for sanitary sewer extension that are part of the project would not be assessed.
The county's portion of the project was estimated to be about $300,000. The county planned to use municipal state aid funds, which requires the city participation in the storm water improvements to prevent flooding.
Once the decision was made to adopt the assessment proposal by the council, property owners have 30 days to appeal it to district court. No action can take place until after that appeal process is complete.
Even if no appeals are made, the project is far from a sure thing. Amunrud said the county wants the city to sign an agreement stating it would take ownership of the road in 10 years. Because state funds would be used, the county must own the road for 10 years after completion of improvements.
However, he said Friday, that the project is contingent on an agreement being signed before work is done, something the city is balking at.
City Administrator Deb Zimmer said at a Vision 21 meeting Friday that the city would favor waiting 10 years to decide if it wants to sign the agreement. She could not be reached for further comment Friday after the meeting.
Amunrud said there should be few concerns about maintenance as the project calls for a concrete surface, which has a far longer lifespan than asphalt. He noted that County Road 44 was surfaced with concrete several years ago and no maintenance has been done to it since that time.
"The city needs to take ownership," he said. "We're willing to reconstruct the road and hand it over to them."
The only other option, he noted, is abandoning it. County 1 comes into the city on the southwest side from Ostrander and follows city streets, mostly Main Street, crosses Section Avenue and continues to Highway 16, where it comes back to the west to continue up Section Avenue north to Olmsted County. Amunrud says it doesn't make sense for that portion to go out to Minnesota 16, when the natural progression would be to turn north at Section and continue out of town. He speculates that "politics" is responsible for the unusual jag in the road.
It serves as another entrance to the city from Highway 16 and is heavily used by grain and other industrial trucks traveling to local businesses, all benefits to the city, he noted.
The issue isn't a new one as it surfaced at a Fillmore County Board meeting April 24. At that time, Amunrud was pushing for the county to improve this portion of County Road 1, but commissioners Duane Bakke and Marc Prestby, both members of the Highway Committee, pressed for a stipulation that the improvements be done only if the road is turned back to the city and taken off the hands of the county, something they would like to see done for other county roads inside city limits.
Amunrud told his fellow commissioners that he had been trying to get the city to do this for years, but it was reluctant due to state funding cutbacks.
The other two warned him during a heated exchange at the April board meeting that they have other cities that are willing to take ownership of roads after the county spends money to make improvements and perhaps the county should make those cities that cooperate a priority for funding.
After the city first took no action on the matter, the Highway Committee last month moved projects in Preston and Harmony ahead of the Spring Valley project.
Another factor complicating matters is that county highway engineer John Grindeland is retiring and a new one will start Nov. 9 or likely earlier if possible.