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Decisions looming on two Baxter road projects; Briarwood and Excelsior

BAXTER - Two residents on a rural Baxter road urged the city council to consider consequences versus benefits in a proposal to pave Briarwood Lane. "What is the benefit to the city of the project," Brad Folta Jr. asked, noting the wetlands and sp...

BAXTER - Two residents on a rural Baxter road urged the city council to consider consequences versus benefits in a proposal to pave Briarwood Lane.

"What is the benefit to the city of the project," Brad Folta Jr. asked, noting the wetlands and species such as Blanding's turtles, once widespread and now restricted to a small number of states including Minnesota and southeastern Canada. "We have a number of things being damaged by this and only one benefit."

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said one of the biggest benefits comes in maintenance costs as the paved road is cheaper to maintain. And Olson said the interest in paving Briarwood Lane came from people who live there.

Briarwood is south of Highway 210 roughly between Baxter City Hall and Simonson Lumber. The city looked at potential costs and construction options last year after receiving a request from residents to pave Briarwood. The rural road serves three homes and two empty lots. One of the residents and the property owner with the undeveloped lots favor paving the gravel road as did a Joler Road resident who drives on it to reach his home. The Foltas, who have been outspoken about keeping the gravel road, previously expressed concern about the wetlands. The existing wetlands is one reason land in the area isn't developed. Brad Folta Jr. and his father were the only residents who attended and spoke at Thursday's special hearing.

The estimated total cost of paving the 1,710-foot lane is $60,000. Costs cover a 26-foot wide paved road and cul-de-sac. Because of the large lot sizes and handful of residents, the city reports it isn't cost effective to bring in municipal water and sewer. Assessments to pave the road are expected to be $6,692 per lot, which translates to an annual payment of about $805.

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The entire project area has three homes, two undeveloped lots and seven un-assessable parcels. The city is proposing to pay 44 percent of the project costs or $26,541. Construction could take two weeks next summer.

Folta said his research shows 175 acres of wetland on fine grain sand deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago. Folta expressed concern for drinking wells in the area, including his parents, after the paved surface creates stormwater runoff. Currently, he said, water pools and then filters through the gravel road. After a rain, Folta said, half of the cul-de-sac is mud. Paving all the roads in the area, Folta said, puts an impervious surface on 3 acres comparing the size to a big box retailer's parking lot. The runoff will flow into the wetland and ultimately to the Mississippi River, Folta argued. It's an argument he said he knows pits engineers against scientists.

"I don't want to see my parents get sick off of water," Folta said. "I don't want to lose the wetlands I pretty much grew up on."

Growing up there and spending his youth in neighboring Potlatch land is why, Folta said, he's a geologist today.

Trevor Walter, Baxter public works director, said having a paved surface should help maintenance issues such as having to rebuild the cul-de-sac with its soft earth. A bituminous surface, Walter said, will float better on land with the high water table and be better for the environment overall.

"I don't think we are going to have a problem," Walter said. "I don't foresee it as a problem."

Olson said neighbors have requested paving Briarwood over the years, which he listed as one of the benefits. With pavement, Olson said there won't be stories of mail trucks getting stuck in the mud.

The issue will go before the council for a decision at the regular meeting on Jan. 20, which starts at 7 p.m. Property owners would have a 12-year payback period with an estimated 5.5 percent interest.

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The full council, complete with a freshly sworn in Quinn Nystrom, were on hand for the special session. Nystrom will be sworn in again ceremoniously at the Jan. 20 meeting.

The council considered Briarwood and in a separate hearing heard an update on the proposed Excelsior Road project. The high volume Excelsior Road serves about 9,000 vehicles per day. The proposal calls for a new road to be constructed in what engineers call a full-depth reclamation from between Cypress Drive and the city's east limits. The project includes work on Conservation Drive. New pedestrian crossings at the Conservation Drive intersection leading to the Northland Arboretum and trailhead parking lot and at Mills Fleet Farm farther west are planned as safety improvements. The new flashers would be activated by pedestrians and warn approaching motorists. It is considered a safer alternative to a steadily flashing light motorists may no longer actively notice.

Scott Hedlund, senior project manager at Short Elliott Hendrickson, said the Excelsior Road project was started in 2006 but put on hold with the Great Recession. Recent capital improvement planning put the project back on the city's to-do list. Plans are to reconstruct Excelsior Road with phase one this year and do the connecting Cypress Drive project in 2018.

Two people attended the public hearing but neither spoke. Property owners were able to meet one-on-one with Hedlund and city staff to see what their assessments could look like.

The Excelsior Road project is expected to cost $3.1 million with the city paying for about 87.4 percent of the total project costs. The payback period is 12 years at an estimated 5.5 percent interest for the projects with a full reconstruction and a seven year payback for portions with a mill and overlay, where the top inch is ground off and a new bituminous layer added. Work on Conservation Drive is proposed for a mill and overlay. The city is picking up street lighting, right of way, trail and pedestrian improvements, safety improvements and regional stormwater improvements.

Efforts will replace a plastic pipe, which has collapsed in areas, with a concrete one to run on Excelsior Road's south side. Plans call for a lowering of the pond by the arboretum for safety and a new outlet structure for greater efficiency.

The new Excelsior Road would have two 12-foot driving lanes, a center left turn lane throughout and right turn lanes at intersections. The curve will be softened. The channel of open water to the north of the road will be moved farther north, away from the roadway as part of greater stormwater improvements that also call for a new pond by Cypress Drive. No decisions were made Thursday. The Excelsior Road project will also be on the city council's Jan. 20 agenda with a decision expected on whether to proceed with the project or not.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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