A Crow Wing County road improvement project with a long and contentious history is going forward full-speed ahead, but it hasn't been easy.
The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted at its Tuesday, Oct. 9, meeting to make County Road 115-also known as Ojibwa and Nashway roads-a "priority."
"I think this has been a very fruitful time since this last go around where we have really engaged the community," Commissioner Paul Thiede said before the vote.
More information was provided by WSB & Associates of Baxter at a July 9 open house in Brainerd that County Engineer Tim Bray described as "positive" and "upbeat."
But trust seemed to be in short supply at the Nov. 29 open house in Nisswa that was intended to clear the air about the proposed County Road 115 project.
The project is located from the south junction to the north junction of County Road 115 and Minnesota Highway 371 and encircles Round Lake for about 5 miles.
"This has been a very long and arduous process on this particular road, and it is because it is such a challenging area-winding between two lakes, residential properties close to the road on both sides," County Administrator Tim Houle said.
Area residents packed into Nisswa City Hall Nov. 29 to voice questions and property concerns about altering the almost 35-year-old winding, scenic road encircling Round Lake.
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 trees-were issues discussed at that contentious meeting.
Some area residents wondered why the roadway could not be overlaid and left as is, but officials contend a simple resurfacing to improve the smoothness of the road would be a "poor investment" and only addresses part of the challenges the county road faces.
The road bed is in poor condition and would lead to early deterioration of the roadway surface because the road was not designed for the amount and size of the traffic it sees today when it was originally constructed, according to officials from the county and WSB.
Officials estimate the construction cost of the project to be $1 million to $1.25 million per mile and will take more than a year to complete and will be broken into multiple stages.
"We know that sales tax is very volatile, but the economy is on fire right now, and our county engineer ... would attest that the money is rolling in and so we've got the money to bring our roads up to the standards that I think people expect," Commissioner Paul Koering said.
The primary funding for the proposed project will be the Crow Wing County Local Option Sales Tax and local property tax dollars, but Lake Edward Township and Nisswa will likely have some cost-participation obligations.
"This will probably be the last time I say this-usually I don't like to admit to making a mistake-but I will go back to when we did implement the sales tax to fix our roads," Koering said. In 2015, he was the single vote opposed to the countywide half-cent sales tax.
Sales tax revenue for July, for example, was more than $800,000 in sales tax money to fix the roads, according to Commissioner Rosemary Franzen.
"I will say that I'm kind of an anti-tax guy, but if I had to go back and change that vote, I would change it because I have seen the fruits of that all throughout the county and especially down in my district," Koering said. "And the people in southern Crow Wing County are extremely happy with the roads that we've been able to resurface that we would have never been able to do before just by levy dollars."
Residents brought a petition and arguments in support of retaining the scenic road to the county board in 2015. They referenced 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.
The County Road 115 corridor is a rural minor collector that connects to Highway 371 on the north and south side of Round Lake and to County Road 127, another rural minor collector, which connects to County Highway 3, a major north-south route classified as a "minor arterial."
"I think there are still engineering decisions behind this about to what extent could we afford to do the whole road in one year or is that a two or three year," Houle said.
Koering said, "The way the money is coming in, it might not even be a five-year wait for this road and other roads that could be moved up with the way the money is coming in. ... I really believe we're going in the right direction, at least I can see it down in my area."
For more about the County Road 115 project, visit www.crowwing115.com.
In other business, the county board:
Approved the promotion of Tammy Mulroy, community services income maintenance supervisor.
Authorized payment from the solid waste fund for the abatement at 10855 Bonnie Road in Brainerd in the amount of $5,200 to Hengel Ready Mix and Construction Inc. of Pillager.
Approved the application for repurchase of tax-forfeited lands of Tyler Hendrickson of Aitkin based on circumstances of undue hardship and of Melissa Straight of Ironton based on a missed deadline.
Approve re-classifying tax-forfeited property near Krist Court as non-conservation status and authorized the direct sale of it to the city of Pequot Lakes at the estimated market value of $2,500 to preserve the property's access to the Paul Bunyan State Trail.