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City Council Votes Not to Endorse DD 180 Repair Project

September 13, 2018
By Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

by Darren Fraser

During a, at times, fractious meeting, the Emmetsburg City Council, in a close vote, refused to endorse the Drainage District 180 project that will be decided September 19.

During public comment, local businessman, Nick Steinkamp, presented the council with a petition signed by other local business owners, expressing their opposition to the project. Steinkamp asked the council, if it votes against endorsing the project, to sign the remonstrance that would stop the project.

"This project is going to cost the business owners that employ over 500 people in town over half a million dollars. It's going to cost the city over $225,000, which, essentially, is going to be more taxes," said Steinkamp.

Steinkamp said he met with Bolton and Menck project manager, Don Etler, for two hours Monday. He said during the course of the meeting, he learned that "chunks of land" included in the original survey have been removed, which translates to higher assessments on those parcels of land that remain in the survey.

Steinkamp told the council that, during his meeting with Etler, he learned that the repository for the easterly direction water from Grand Avenue used to be swamp land. "It was unfarmable," said Steinkamp. Because of the silt site erected on the site, which increased the elevation from six to eight feet, the water has nowhere to go.

The first item on the council agenda was to consider confirming the project. City Administrator Kim Kibbie said she placed this item on the agenda because she felt it was time for the city to either endorse or not endorse the project.

"We have met several times," said Kibbie, "[councilmember] Brian Malm, [councilmember] Mike Hermansen and myself met with a couple of the [Palo Alto County] supervisors and the engineer of this project." Kibbie said, initially, she was reluctant to support the project because of the cost. "It's a lot of money," said Kibbie.

She asked, rhetorically, if there was a cheaper way to make the repairs. "I doubt it. But this project isn't about a couple houses on Grand Avenue; it's about economic development and the future of our city."

Addressing the council members, Kibbie continued. "Whether we go forward with it or we stop it now, I think it is very important that the supervisors know where your support stands. Either we are behind this project or they need to know you're not behind this project."

Malm said, "This project, this exact same project, was presented 15 years ago. It should have been done then."

Steinkamp said DD 180 is the oldest district in the county. "That line goes down tomorrow, this will all go [another project] again," said Steinkamp.

According to Steinkamp, he learned during his meeting with Etler that several of the surveys are wrong. "This ain't a one and done," said Steinkamp.

"And you've got two inlets on your property," said Hermansen.

"Three," replied Steinkamp. "And that's the problem. [The water] is going west; I'm at the end of the line."

Steinkamp said Etler was unaware of the existence of some storm sewers included in the project.

Holding up his copy of the engineer's report Bolton and Menck distributed at the last DD 180 hearing, Councilmember Brian Campbell said, "Does that mean you're saying that a lot of this is incorrect?"

"Some of it," replied Steinkamp. "There are two addendums that aren't in there of people that have been taken out." Steinkamp said, among others, landowners Gappa and Ankeny have been removed from the assessed parcels.

Echoing Kibbie, Malm said fixing the city's infrastructure is the key to civic growth.

"You speak of the infrastructure," replied Steinkamp. "Storm sewers, none of that's been tied. It all stops at 5th Street. There's no infrastructure there. If you want to develop the project, you put in the infrastructure and let the drainage district worry about drainage." Steinkamp added, emphatically, "It is not the drainage district's purpose to collect the water. If that were the case, no city would have retention ponds, no city would have storm sewers."

The discussion shifted to the ultimate cost of the project. Kibbie said, "It's like the street project. We're not truly going to know what [the cost of] this project is until we take bids."

Councilmember Bill Burdick Jr. responded, "At that point, we can't do anything about it, correct?"

Campbell said, "There is no denying this project should not have been done 15 years ago. My concern now is this is not a final project." Referring to the engineer's report, Campbell said, "Things have been added, things have been taken out. I cannot in good faith approve something that is constantly being changed. I don't think we can approve it until we know what we are approving.

Kibbie said the decision before the council was about approving moving forward or not with the project. Addressing Campbell, she said, "We're not asking you to approve that," meaning the report.

Malm said, "We know exactly what the project is; we don't know what it will cost."

Campbell replied, "He [Steinkamp] just told me. Something's been taken out, something's been added."

"That has to do with the cost," answered Malm. "That doesn't have to do with the project."

After Mayor Myrna Heddinger stopped the discussion and asked for a vote, Campbell made a motion to table discussion on the issue for 90 days, but Kibbie reminded him the county was holding its hearing on

September 19.

Hermansen, who, at a prior meeting, mentioned his property was assessed in excess of $7,000, floated the idea of other solutions, including the city purchasing homes on Grand Avenue that are affected by the flooding. "Well," he said, referring to alternative proposals, "'The city should just buy those houses.' But where do you stop? Let's say those four houses are $50,000 apiece. Can we afford that? Well, we'd figure it out. But what do you do with that $400,000 house? That's more than what the city has to pay on this project." Hermansen said he will support the project, with reluctance. "It has to happen," he said.

Prior to taking the vote, Kibbie reminded the council that the issue they were deciding was whether or not the city supports the project. "Whether you approve your support of it or deny your support of it, it still lays in the supervisors' hands," she said.

Steinkamp repeated his objection to the project. "I am against this. There are other ways to fix this. I believe curb, gutter and storm sewer can act as retention. We need to extend the existing utilities up those roads; it's never been done."

Malm said if the issue was confined to north Grand Avenue, the city could resolve the issue by purchasing those homes. Malm reiterated the project was about infrastructure. He said the project would allow three parcels of agriculture land to be developed, including property owned by Larry and Ruth Neppl.

"Which is ag right now," said Hermansen, "but is prime business property."

Burdick asked, "If we deny this [support of the project] and they [property owners] said, 'We're going to sell this for development,' we would not allow that? To be changed for zoning. Correct?"

"I don't know how you could," responded Kibbie.

Malm interjected that Neppl was in favor of the project 15 years ago. "But he's against it now," said Steinkamp.

Hermansen made a motion to support the project; Malm seconded. The vote was taken, and the motion denied.

The council next addressed the nuisance complaint appeal by Mike Flannegan, who owns a two-story brick building at 1601 Grand Avenue. Flannegan, who spoke at length during the DD 180 discussion, argued he was in the planning stage of developing the property; that is the reason for the equipment and other items on this property.

Noting that Flannegan has no building permit on file with the city, Kibbie replied until he completes the permit process and is approved, he is prohibited from having equipment on the property.

Burdick Jr. said when Flannegan's neighbors, who brought the complaint, purchased their homes, the property in question was a school. "It was a kindergarten," said Burdick Jr.

"It still is," replied Flannegan.

"I haven't seen any kids there in a long time," answer Burdick Jr.

Burdick Jr. said when Flannegan turns the building into a functioning school, the city would support it. He reminded Flannegan the property is zone R1, which is a special exemption for a school.

Flannegan drifted off into tangents during his appeal, forcing Kibbie and Heddinger to remind him the issue pertains to equipment on the property that either must be stowed inside or removed.

Flannegan referenced named referring to Police Chief Ryan Veldboom, who was sitting directly opposite Flannegan and unnamed individuals actively working against him to create his school. He said the city is discriminating against him; that it has a history of making allowances for some individuals and working against other individuals.

After considerable back and forth, Flannegan conceded the debate but indicated he would not comply with the 30-day notice to remove the equipment. "I'll be back with an attorney," he said. Burdick Jr. made a motion to deny Flannegan's appeal; Councilmember Ryan Berkland seconded.

David and Judy Cole, who live opposite West Elementary School, asked the council if the new parking restrictions on the streets adjacent to the school could be modified. David Cole said not being able to park on the street is proving inconvenient for the residents. "We are a four-car family," he said. "We often have elderly visitors. They have to park a street over and walk because they can't park in front of our house."

Hermansen asked Veldboom if the no-parking hours could be modified to apply only to the time when school is in session. Veldboom answered that when he, Public Properties Director Frank Kliegl and West Elementary Principal Joe Carter met last summer to discuss the one-way street project, they concluded the best solution was to prohibit parking on the streets.

"We ask that residents call the station and let us know when they will have a car parked in front of their house," said Veldboom, adding his officers would not ticket identified vehicles.

Kibbie suggested she, Veldboom, Kliegl and Carter meet at a future date to discuss the situation and report back to the council.

Kibbie reported the sidewalk committee met two times. At the last meeting, the committee voted to have the Iowa Department of Transportation remove all the trees from the downtown area. The committee voted in favor of the DOT paving the sidewalks. "We felt this would give us time to look for grant funding and do more research on what we want to go down in our downtown." Kibbie added the committee would be soliciting input from all the downtown business owners.

Burdick Jr. reported on the results of the Finance, Ordinance and Personnel Committee meeting held on August 30. The committee recommended terminating the silt site leases with the Stillman family. The city would still be required to pay on the leases for one year after termination. Burdick Jr. said committee recommended soliciting contractor bids to restore the silt site for farming. Burdick Jr. made motions to terminate the leases and to solicit bids; motions were carried.

On a related topic, Burdick Jr. mentioned the future of the dredge, which has sat idle for years. The council decided to meet with the Lake Board at a future date to discuss the dredge's fate.

In other council business, the council approved Resolution No. 18-14 for the filing of the Street Finance Report. The council approved the Annual Urban Renewal Report for FY 2017-18 and the 2018 Annual Financial Report.

The council approved an agreement to allow the DOT to use local roads during the railroad crossing repairs beginning next year. The council approved Resolution No. 18-15 closing city streets for Homecoming activities.

Lastly, the council approved the hiring of Caige Elbert for crewman and the hiring of Ryan McGuire for the Community Center. The council unanimously approved Heddinger's recommendations for appointments to various city boards.



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