The Brainerd Riverfront Committee Monday night showed the Brainerd City Council what the committee has been working on during the past year, including planning an elevated trail.
The committee is proposing an ambitious project, dubbed the Three Bridges Trail. The elevated trail would run along the Mississippi River from the Washington Street bridge, passing underneath the Laurel Street and railroad bridges before ending along East River Road near Brainerd High School.
The Brainerd Riverfront Committee has been evaluating the Mississippi River Partnership Plan, which the University of Minnesota Center for Rural Design helped develop. The Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation awarded the committee a three-year $100,000 "Difference Maker" grant, and the committee has been trying to determine its first project goal. The committee used the grant to hire Short Elliott Hendrickson to coordinate the plan.
Rod Osterloh, committee chair, said one of the goals of the committee is to attract more people to resources the community already has, like the Mississippi River.
"About the only interaction most people have is driving across the bridge and glancing down at the water," Osterloh said.
Because of the lack of flat land on the riverbank, a raised, pier-style trail is the simplest way to bring a trail to the river, said Bob Kost, planner with SEH. There would be multiple places where people would be able to step off the trail onto an overlook to take in the sights and sounds of the river, he said.
The pier-style construction would result in less environmental impact than a trail built into the riverbank, said Jeff Ledin, engineer with SEH. There will be environmental impact studies for the project, he said, but the pier-style construction has less environmental impact than other construction styles along the river.
"You don't raise the floodplain, you don't disturb any wetlands," Ledin said. "It's not as onerous as it might seem."
There's a similar elevated trail on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on the University of Minnesota campus, Osterloh said.
"It isn't like we're reinventing the wheel," Osterloh said. "This is real technology. It's been used before."
The committee did not have a rough cost for the trail, or a rough measure of how long it would be. It would be premature to talk about the cost at this point of the planning process, Osterloh said.
Council member Sue Hilgart said she was puzzled by the fact the committee didn't have a rough cost estimate, because the committee can't ask for funding without a cost in mind. The committee is going to ask for funding for preliminary designs, Osterloh replied, so a rough cost estimate can be developed.
The committee, in partnership with SEH, has developed a rough concept for the Three Bridges Trail, Osterloh said. The next step in the process involves identifying funding sources, he said.
Heidi Peper with SEH outlined the different funding options the committee has been and will be pursuing to help fund the project. Different funding sources can be used for different portions of the project, she said. In the short-term, the committee is looking at funding through the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, a Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Regional designation and the 2018 state Legislature bonding bill.
The committee will be asking the LCCMR in May for $1 million for preliminary design and engineering, Peper said. These funds would not require a local match, she said. The committee would be able to go back to the LCCMR in future years for more funding, she said.
The committee looked at maintenance costs for the trail, once it would be complete, Osterloh said. Using estimated costs from other parks in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, the committee estimated annual maintenance costs for the Three Bridges Trail at about $5,000, depending on materials.
"There's just not that much maintenance to these things," Osterloh said.
In now the second year of the BLACF grant, the committee wants to refine the concept design for the trail, Ledin said, and have another meeting with stakeholders in the project. The committee's goal is to have a ribbon cutting for the trail during the city of Brainerd's 150th anniversary in June of 2021, he said.
Council member Kelly Bevans asked if the trail would also include a pedestrian bridge crossing the river near Rotary Park. That bridge isn't a part of this immediate project, Osterloh said, but is an idea that's been floated out there in the community.
"That's an idea that's out there and also is an idea that needs a champion," Osterloh said. "And it needs somebody to fund it and it needs to happen."
During a public comment portion of the work session, former council member Mary Koep spoke in vehement opposition to the project. She described the committee presentation as "excellent salesmanship" and said it didn't touch on the crucial points of the project.
The committee had previously decided to downplay the costs of the project, Koep said, and instead emphasize its potential value. At one of the more recent committee meetings, she said, a potential cost of $15 million was brought up.
"The value is speculative, I would assume you all understand that," Koep said. "Once you've committed to this project, the cost is real."
Koep implored the council to hold a referendum if council members decide to pursue the project. The voters should have a say in whether or not the project goes forward, she said, because the public will be footing the bill.
"To lay more on us, with the speculation that we're going to have all this value and all this new development, is frankly political flim-flam," Koep said.
Once the project is complete, gawkers would come to look at the trail, Koep said, but wouldn't spend any money in the area and might throw trash into the river. There's less-expensive things to do to help people enjoy the river, she said, like adding fishing piers or kayak and canoe landings.
"There are many things you can do without going into a circus or a dog and pony show with a bill of $15 million," Koep said.
Council members Jan Lambert and Kevin Stunek were absent Monday. Visit www.brainerdriverfront.org to learn more about the project.