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Crosslake: Public disagrees on solutions for facility updates. Sewer district idea supported

Councilmember Gary Heacox presents former mayor Patty Norgaard with a plaque recognizing her tenure during a special council meeting Monday, Jan. 7, in Crosslake. Erin Bormett / Echo Journal 1 / 2
Councilmember Aaron Herzog is sworn in at a special council meeting Monday, Jan. 7, in Crosslake city hall. Herzog is filling the open seat left by mayor Dave Nevin. Erin Bormett / Echo Journal 2 / 2

The Crosslake City Council chambers overflowed with residents during a special meeting Monday, Jan. 7, arranged by Mayor Dave Nevin to hear public opinion on the most pressing issues leading into the new year.

More than 50 people attended the meeting, requiring that chairs be set up in the hallway to accommodate the large turnout.

All council members were present, including Dave Schrupp, who attended via Skype, and newly elected council member John Andrews.

The meeting began by presenting former Mayor Patty Norgaard with a plaque to honor her tenure for the past two years. Council member Gary Heacox presented the plaque.

When Nevin became mayor, he left a vacancy on the city council. After officially acknowledging the vacancy, Nevin recommended Aaron Herzog for the position. Herzog ran for city council in the November election but did not win.

The council did not nominate any other candidates, and unanimously voted to approve Herzog's nomination. Herzog was sworn in on the spot and joined the council at the front of the room.

Nevin then opened the floor to the public to speak their mind regarding the sewer extension project, administrative and emergency facility needs, the purchase of the property adjacent to city hall and potential funding options for these endeavors.

Sewer project

Nevin asked Amy Wannebo, a state-licensed septic system professional, to begin the conversation by explaining what a sewer district is, as the possibility of creating one had been suggested in previous meetings.

"A sewer district is a designated area of subsurface sewage treatment systems that are inspected, monitored and maintained by the district," she said. "The purpose of creating the district is to ensure proper care and use of the systems as well as minimize long-term costs to the community."

Sewer districts pump and inspect all systems in the designated area every three years.

Everyone who came forward to talk about the sewer project spoke in favor of a sewer district. Reasons from the members of the public included algae blooms that might be worsening because of septic issues, keeping systems working properly, concerns about the price of a full sewer expansion and a belief that a sewer district could help everyone while the sewer expansion would not.

"It only makes sense to expand the sewer for about one third of the city," said Phil Martin, an engineer with Bolton and Menk, Inc.

Martin worked on the citywide sewer study in October for Crosslake.

Former Crosslake mayor Darrell Swanson also stepped up to the microphone. He said when he was mayor 17 years ago, they did work to improve the sewer system, and a sewer district was brought up as a potential follow-up discussion.

"Maybe 17 years later, it's time," said Swanson. "We will spend a little money, but it's an investment."

Swanson also encouraged the city to find funding through something that would place the burden on homesteaders and visitors alike, such as a sales tax, because he said the sewer was something they would all benefit from.

At the end of the conversation, there was interest from both the public and the council to form a committee and move forward with researching the possibility of a sewer district. At the regular monthly council meeting Monday, Jan. 14, the council plans to officially create such a committee.

City facility needs

One of the most contested topics among Crosslake citizens and council members is the update to the administrative and emergency facilities.

While many residents agreed when it came to the sewer updates, responses in this conversation were much more widespread.

Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller and Police Chief Erik Lee reiterated their concerns about facility space and safety.

"The city is growing, our needs are growing," said Lohmiller.

"We have said time and again that we're out of space," said Lee. "We were outgrown in 1997 when we hired a fifth officer."

Lee likened their situation to the previous conversation regarding the sewer project. Someone had told an anecdote about a man who hadn't gotten his system checked in nearly 30 years.

"Just because it flushes, doesn't necessarily mean it's working the best," said Lee. "We need updated facilities."

Public opinion ranged from support for Lohmiller and Lee's requests to questions about how much space they truly needed.

Many people seemed doubtful that the recommendations given by Five Bugles Design were all necessary. Others voiced concern about the phrase "a 50-year building" that has been used to describe the proposed facility.

Mark Wessels, former Crosslake council member, said he didn't disagree that they need more space, but the proposal seemed like a huge jump in size.

"Planning ahead 50 years in the future is impossible to do," he said.

Crosslake residents were also divided when it came to alternate solutions. Some said remodeling the current structure would be enough. Others once again suggested purchasing the available property adjacent to city hall to expand the campus. Still others questioned why the city was worried about spending money on sewer expansion when the fire and police departments had more pressing needs.

Similar to the conversation about the sewer project, there was community interest in forming a committee to explore options. At the Monday, Jan. 14, regular monthly council meeting, the council plans to approve the committee.

Nevin encouraged forming both committees.

"We need to set deadlines so we don't have this conversation again in a year," he said.