Residents who live on Ojibwa and Nashway roads will soon have the opportunity to speak for the trees.
The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, June 22, set an August hearing date to collect public input on vegetation impacts expected during the scheduled reconstruction of the roadway otherwise known as County Road 115.
County Engineer Tim Bray said his department will take an atypical approach to replacing the road known for its scenic views and neighborhood feel, with a goal of saving as many trees as possible.
“We want to see the public come out and tell us why those trees are important. It’s the right thing to do,” Bray said. “ … It’s hard to find a corridor with 100-year-old trees that are right up against, that are so sensitive that we really need to follow this statute. We’re committed at the highway department to doing it.”
“The residents along there expect us to save them. I want to save them, and we’re going to do everything we can to save them.”
— Tim Bray, Crow Wing County engineer
The state statute to which Bray referred is one he said is little used in road construction, but it allows more flexibility for the county to make decisions about whether trees can be saved as a project progresses. Without applying the statute and hosting the accompanying public hearing, Bray said tree removal would likely be less precise and include all those growing within the expanded public rights of way. He offered the recent reconstruction of County Highway 13 near Nisswa as an example of more extensive tree removal than what Bray has in mind for County Road 115.
If you go
What: Public hearing on vegetation impacts as part of County Road 115 reconstruction project.
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 19.
Where: Nisswa City Hall, 5442 City Hall St., Nisswa.
“This 115 corridor is quite unique because we’ve allowed (these trees) to be there but it’s still on public property. That is an amenity for adjacent property owners,” Bray said.
Bray said some trees would be impossible to save because they’re located within the “disturbance line,” where construction activity is necessary as part of the design plan. But, he said, the space between the planned disturbance areas and the final public right of way offers more opportunities to preserve some of the towering centenarians.
“We may be able to save them and we want to,” Bray said. “The residents along there expect us to save them. I want to save them, and we’re going to do everything we can to save them.”
Beyond the plans specific to trees and shrubs, Bray noted with stakes placed along the corridor, members of his staff are meeting with property owners to discuss the specific impacts to their properties. These actions include purchasing private property to be used as public right of way, renting property to be used during construction only, removing or retaining landscaping or installing holding ponds.
“The corridor is just packed with fences and trees and driveways and things like that and it’s hard to kind of find those spatial relationships between what’s there now and what we’re proposing,” Bray said. “So it’s really important for us to be out there and physically show the property owners what we’re doing.”
About 30% of the residents reached out and met with county officials thus far. He said those conversations are ongoing and some have led to changes in the plan following residents’ suggestions. He said it’s important the highway department wrap up those individualized meetings by mid-July, however, to stay on track with the land acquisition required as part of the project. Revised layouts of the planned construction are available to view at crowwing115.com, where property owners can see how their own land will likely be impacted down to each tree. Comments may also be submitted there for those unable to attend the public hearing in person.
Another aspect of the project Bray said will assist in reducing the footprint is the use of curb and gutter along a significant portion of the corridor. Using this method as opposed to digging ditches — which will still occur in some areas of County Road 115 — means fewer trees or shrubs will ultimately be removed. A curb is considered a barrier playing a role in preventing vehicles from leaving the road, which in turn means trees can stay closer to the roadway. In areas where ditches will be used instead, the vegetation removal must expand farther out.
With the curb and gutter, however, comes a tradeoff: holding ponds, and lots of them. Bray said 19 holding ponds are planned for the 5-mile stretch. The county will purchase the property planned for holding ponds and would be responsible for their maintenance indefinitely.
“When you have curb and gutter, it collects and concentrates the water. You have to have a place to treat it before it flows into a lake or river,” Bray said. “ … Ponds are invasive to some of the property owners where they will be located. But overall, it can minimize the impacts because we’re using curb and gutter, if that makes sense. So it is a tradeoff.”
Another visual change expected as part of the construction project is fewer power poles in the future. Bray said about six months ago, Minnesota Power committed to burying the public lines below ground, and other utility companies are coordinating to get other cables, fiber and gas lines within the same trench. Some residents have long hoped for this change, Bray said, due to somewhat regular power outages because of wind.
In all, planning efforts are between 90-95% complete for the two-year project, which will be in large part funded by revenue generated from the countywide local option sales tax.