City adjusts amid protests

BLUE EARTH – After a standing-room-only crowd protested and asked questions for 90 minutes, Blue Earth City Council on Monday voted to put in a 36-foot street on Highland Drive, but eliminated paint and signs to designate a walking path or parking lane.

An estimated half of the property owners along Highland Drive showed up for the hearing on pending city street work, which also includes Third Street, 11th Street and 12th Street, to repair the surface and infrastructure.

Residents of Highland Drive say they do not need a parking lane because the only people likely to drive on the curving road that ends in a cul-de-sac are those who live on it. They said they do not need a walking/bike path because they usually walk down the middle of the road.

The city is trying to tie the street to other parts of town and improve “walkability,” said city administrator Kathy Bailey.

Residents also questioned why curb and gutter are in the plans.

“You have to have drainage [for rainwater on the roadway],” said Councilman Dan Brod.

“Curb and gutter is an extravagance we don’t need in a country-style setting,” said resident Victor Faith.

“Whether we put that curb and gutter in or not, you’ll pay for it,” said Mayor Rick Scholtes.

That’s because assessments are based on the previous three year’s projects, Bailey noted.

“I’d love to have curb and gutter; everything drains my way,” said resident Dale Henke.

Sue Juba wanted to know how residents will get to their homes on the dead-end street after construction begins.

“There’s no magic answer, because there’s no back access,” said Wes Brown, city engineer, adding that he would work with the contractor to make a way.

Some residents protested against paving the entire cul-de-sac, saying children play in the grassy island now located in the middle. Bailey said paving the entire area will facilitate bus and snowplow traffic.

Some homeowners along other streets involved in the street work do not want the grass to be disturbed because they fear winding up with bare lawns, as has happened on other street projects in the past couple of years.

Brown and Bailey explained that the grass from the street to the sidewalk will be torn up so crews can get to the infrastructure that runs alongside the streets.

Scholtes explained that the city will be lenient with water bills for homeowners who want to water the berm to encourage grass to grow, adding that it would cost more expensive to have construction crews repair the grass.

Total cost for the projects is $2.1 million, with property owners paying $503,500.

After the public hearing was closed, the council continued the debate.

“The goal is the walkability in our community,” Scholtes said. “It would be nice to connect the two ends of town with a path.”

“It just doesn’t go anywhere,” protested Councilman Glenn Gaylord.

“The walking path will just be paint anyway,” pointed out Brod. “Add it in later.”

“I’m against putting in sidewalk when people don’t want it,” Gartzke said.

“You’re ignoring the safety issue, John,” argued Councilman John Huisman.

“We have nothing concrete to tell us this is a safety issue,” answered Gartzke, noting that elderly people in other parts of town walk in the streets because some sidewalks are in such bad shape.

“We’re in the process of repairing sidewalks,” said Huisman, adding that paths are being built in the Twin Cities and people are using them because they are available now. “Our job is to listen to people and govern well. What’s in the best interest of the public?”

In the end, the council voted 5-2 not to put in the walking path or parking lanes, but amended the original motion to keep the grassy island in the cul-de-sac, with drive-over curbs.