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Backus: Dump property sale a complex issue

Echo Journal file photo.

The journey to convert the old Backus dump into a viable business property may not fit into Black Line Conversions Inc.'s preferred timeline, so the city council tables discussion until it learns more from business owner Micah Eveland.

Eveland approached the council during two previous meetings to discuss possibly buying the old dump site. Eveland also spoke to the city about borrowing from available municipal loan funds to develop the property. Several questions of liability and legality complicated the discussion, so the council referred the question to engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc.

A representative from the firm gave the council a rundown on the process during its regular Monday, Nov. 5, meeting.

The process would be split into several phases, including early phases in which the actual dump site is delineated and potential hazards are identified through soil borings, water testing and vapor testing. Later phases would include permitting and legal documents from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other governmental offices.

Some steps would take only days, others weeks and some of the paperwork and approvals could take months. The process as a whole could take more than six months.

Eveland wanted to begin construction as soon as possible, likely in the spring. Considering the cost for the city to begin testing, and the possibility that the timeline will not work for Eveland, the council decided to speak to him before making any decisions.

The city could break even for the sale and testing, and the added local jobs would be a great benefit. But the possibility that the city could spend taxpayer dollars and ultimately not sell the property did not sit well with the council members, even though whatever information was generated from the process could be used for any future sales.

Making the decision even more complicated is the fact that the dump site, which does belong to the city, is not on city land, but is instead located in Powers Township. City Clerk Anne Swanson said the city could work with the township on a possible annexation if the city intended to draw tax revenues from the business.

In addition, though council members wanted to have the hazards of the dumping site identified and perhaps mitigated to eliminate liability if a business was constructed there, they were informed that the city will always be liable for what is in the dump site because the city was the generator of the material there. Determining what risks exist there now is documentation for the business owner rather than a liability waiver.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Addressed continued quality issues with the city's most recent road project. Some roads still hold water. One road that received repairs after the October meeting is developing potholes. Large seams are still visible on several roads. Some complaints were fixed before the city was presented with the first payment estimate of $462,767.32. The project is under warranty, so any problems the city can identify and document should be subject to repair free of charge for a year.

• Learned of a slight uptick in thefts in the city.

• Decided to allow water to be shut off and billing suspended for the winter at B&L Auto's car wash. Normally properties with a habitable building are required to continue paying for water for a year after disconnect; however, the car wash property does not meet that requirement.

Owner Ben Pollock said due to old equipment and heating it costs approximately $3,000 to keep the wash open in the winter while it only takes in about $500. Pollock said he would try to reopen in the spring if the equipment still works. The alternative is permanent closure. The city also decided to look into ordinance language that could address non-habitable buildings.

• Approved a change order to install two Precision Approach Path Indicator lights at the airport with a grant agreement paying for 95 percent of the cost. The city's share would be $900.

• Approved certification of unpaid utilities.

• Approved assessment roll certification to the county.

• Approved hangar lease renewals.

• Accepted the resignation of the dump site attendant. Because the cost of employing an attendant is more than the dump brings in through fees, the council discussed possibly discontinuing the program and directing locals to Waste Partners in Pine River.