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State threatened Blanding’s Turtle found dead on the road in east-central Minnesota. Photo by MN DNR – Christopher E. Smith.

Residents note concerns for threatened Blanding's turtle with Briarwood Lane proposed project

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

BAXTER - Residents on Briarwood Lane asked the city to consider the environment and threatened Blanding's turtles in looking to pave one of the city's last remaining gravel streets.

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At issue is a 1,710-foot street in the city's Southdale section. City officials are looking at contributing to a possible pavement project because there are few property owners who can be assessed for a road improvement. No decisions have been made. Wednesday was the first time the city officially met with residents to talk about this project proposal.

Briarwood Lane runs by large residential lots of 2.5 acres. There are three homes and two empty lots with the east side dominated by wetlands and a city lot. Finance Director Jeremy Vacinek said he doesn't think there is another area in the city with a wetland of such a significant size. With the size of lots and amount of wetlands, the city reported extending water and sewer to the handful of residential lots wasn't anticipated. There are 12 parcels in the Briarwood Lane area, zoned for low-density residential. Seven are parcels along the street that can't be assessed. Normally that type of street improvement project is assessed entirely to adjacent property owners. Five developed or undeveloped parcels would be assessed.

Preliminary budget numbers from Anderson Brothers Construction estimated costs to improve Briarwood Lane at $60,000.

With the number of properties that wouldn't be assessed, the city described the project area as having a unique nature. The city is proposing picking up 44 percent of the cost, or $26,541. The estimated assessments equal $33,459, or $6,692 per lot. The estimated yearly payment, with an interest rate of 5.5 percent, is $805. The assessment would be stretched out over a 12-year period.

Two residents, Joe Reed and Greg Selisker, were unable to attend and sent written responses. Reed said they bought their home knowing it was on the gravel road and were indifferent to the project. Reed stated the assessment was reasonable and he had no objection to it going forward. Selisker expressed his support for the pavement project.

Bradford Folta Jr., a geologist working with the National Park Service who calls Briarwood Lane home, contacted the city by email from a job on the East Coast to note paving the former logging road, which he said appears to be working as it is, would result in loss of habitat for the threatened Blanding's turtle. Bradford Folta said the increased salt for winter roads and pollution, such as oil from vehicles and the road itself, "would devastate the local habitat and wetlands that are only 20 feet or less away from the road's edge."

"The turtles look for soil that they are able to dig in with the least expenditure of energy," Bradford Folta wrote. "This is to place their eggs, then retreat back to the wetlands so that they themselves do not get eaten. Those eggs are vulnerable for 24 hours as they release an odor that predators sniff out to find and devour the young. If they don't get eaten, the young have odds stacked against them until at least adulthood. This road is probably the safest place for these turtles as it is rarely ever used by anyone else other than residents. ... There is absolutely no reason for Briarwood Lane to be paved not this year, not next year, not ever. Please remember to do what's right for the environment. It's the only one we have."

Erna Folta, Briarwood Lane resident who was in a housing development, has lived there since August of 1999. Her son is the geologist who sent the email.

"I'm concerned with some of the planning the city has made," Erna Folta said.

She said they've been monitoring Blanding's turtle eggs by their house. She also questioned a plan to reseed after the project, saying the city doesn't want to introduce grass seed on the natural wetlands, which won't be good for the wetlands. The wetlands feeds into underground water elsewhere. Erna Folta said paving the road will create run-off and an environmental study is important.

"I think it should be done before you proceed," Erna Folta said, adding now there are no barriers between the developed areas and the wetland. In other areas, there is a barrier to protect runoff from going in the wetland, she said.

"If you proceed, that's the component I'd like to see," Erna Folta said. She said they bought that house because of where it was located and see eagles lock talons from their living room. She said they believe they have those views of nature because the area has remained largely untouched.

"We want other generations to have that ability, too," Erna Folta said.

Prairie seeding costs three times more but overall that is a small amount for the project, said Trevor Walter, public works director. Brad Folta Sr. suggested checking with the DNR to see if there might be appropriate seed available. He said the main concern was from the run-off as the wetlands are close to the roadway.

The Foltas spoke in favor of an environmental study prior to the project. Erna Folta suggested an option of paving just past the Joler Road intersection and leaving the remaining segment that leads past one other undeveloped property and their home as gravel.

Maybe leaving this bare would be a way to protect the habitat, Erna Folta said.

"I know that adds cost to what the project would be, I just think it's that important," she said.

Walter said two culverts were put in so wetlands weren't cut off and turtles and other animals would have a crossing to balance ecology and nature with development.

The city has a hardship deferment for senior citizens, disabled, or active military if they meet requirements. The city proposed beginning construction in 2015. Briarwood Lane would remain open during the estimated two-week construction project.

Council member Todd Holman said there has been some inquiry from the neighborhood about this project but it is not on a priority list. Since it had been five years since a meeting with residents took place, the council opted for Wednesday's information meeting.

"Then we can call for the project to go ahead or not," Holman said.

Holman said it would be good to explore the option of reducing the pavement so that could be discussed at the next meeting. Council member Rob Moser said he'd like to see the cost of using the prairie grass seed.

"This is great to hear what you are thinking," Moser said to residents.

The Foltas said there has also been a problem of people dumping in the area not far from the Joler Road and Briarwood Lane intersection. The city owns that property, which it kept as a buffer to the wetland.

Erna Folta asked if the city would consider an environmental study. Holman said the project isn't large enough to trigger a mandatory environmental review and best management practices are available to the city. Moser agreed.

Council member Mark Cross and Mayor Darrel Olson were absent.

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