County road project anything but a smooth ride
NISSWA—Trust seemed to be in short supply at an open house Wednesday intended to clear the air about a proposed Crow Wing County road project that had some residents up in arms.
Residents near County Road 115 packed into Nisswa City Hall to voice questions and property concerns about altering the almost 35-year-old winding, scenic road encircling Round Lake.
"The pavement is basically shot," said Ron Bray, vice president of WSB & Associates, who along with Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray and a majority of the county board, was at the event.
Poor drainage, issues with the subsurface under the pavement, inadequate sight lines and concerns for pedestrian travel safety—versus property values possibly decreasing and uprooting existing structures and foliage—were issues discussed at the contentious meeting by opposing parties.
"The way it is now, we have too many rumors and propaganda out there about what the 'nasty county board' is going to shove down our throat again," said Commissioner Paul Thiede.
Dale Kucera lives on County Road 127, about a half-mile from Ojibwa Road, which he said he drives on almost daily. County Road 115 is also known as Ojibwa and Nashway roads.
"They are trying to make the road safer, but I understand that people don't want to lose their property and the trees along the road, but, yeah, something's got to be done. The road is getting pretty bad—poor drainage, pedestrian conflicts—something's got to be done," Kucera said. "I'd like just a little bit wider roads—some ditches, so drainage on there, so you don't have standing water after a heavy rain—something for the shoulder for the pedestrians to walk on to get them out of the driving lanes."
Residents brought a petition and arguments in support of retaining the scenic road to the county board in 2015, and it was not the first time the board faced opposition to the project, according to Commissioner Paul Koering, who was at Wednesday's open house in Nisswa.
"There was a guy—and a couple of other people—who were just adamant that everything we did they were opposed to, and opposed to and opposed to, and then I think we just kind of pulled back and said, 'Geez! If you don't want the road fixed, fine!" Koering told the crowd.
"I've always said, 'If you don't want your road fixed, there's a lot of people down in St. Mathias and in Garrison, they'd love to have their road fixed,' but ultimately I'm going to have a vote on 115 because I have a vote ... and your road is going to have to be fixed, eventually."
The board was presented with a petition in 2015 by property owners who were against reconstruction, but in favor of a pavement overlay of the road and repair of drainage issues.
"My position is that that perpetuates all the other problems that are there," Tim Bray said at the open house. "To simply just overlay it (with pavement), we're perpetuating those for 20 years—and that's irresponsible and we don't want to do that—we can't."
Residents in 2015 pointed to the road's beauty, towering white and Norway pines and
its safety record, saying there has never been a fatality nor a pedestrian involved in a crash.
"We are here to take input," Ron Bray said at the open house in Nisswa. "Right now, I don't think we're bumping heads. Like I said, we will be coming back in June with those alternatives and discuss it and then laying out a game plan and following it, so we do appreciate the comments."
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, who represents the Ojibwa/Nashway roads area, also tried to reassure skittish residents, openly skeptical of the board's intentions, the highway department and the consulting firm.
"We really have so little information that we hired someone to go out and get this information, so that we could at least make an informed decision. And that's as far as we're at," Franzen said.
"We need to know what we are dealing with before we can make any decisions, but they can't really tell you what's going to happen. They have to come back to us with, 'Where is the right-of-way? What do we actually own versus what you actually own?'"
The road has 11-foot lanes and no paved shoulder. In 2014, Tim Bray said he supported two 11-foot driving lanes and 4-foot paved shoulders.
"I think they're going to find out that some of it has building and obstructions sitting there on the right-of-way, in the right-of-way. What are we going to do about that?" Thiede told the crowd. "We're not here tonight to say we have a solution. We're here to say come the next public meeting we're going to have that clearly defined, and then we're going to be able to start planning what's the next step."
Back in July, the road was not listed in the county's five-year improvement plan.
"Ultimately, we're going to have to make a decision," Koering told a self-described "angry" resident. "We're going to have to make it whether we have a hundred people and 99 of them say, 'I like it,' and one of them says they don't ... we're still going to have to make a decision."