Oct. 2, 2006

Property owners unhappy with proposed bike path

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

None of the Dassel residents at the public input meeting Tuesday for the proposed bituminous path to Spring Lake Park expressed support for it, despite assurances from the presenters that no details have been finalized yet.

The 8-foot-wide path won’t be constructed until 2008, according to Meeker County Highway Engineer Ronald Mortensen.

The proposed path will add 17 feet to the 33-foot-wide right of way of Meeker County Road 4, plus a temporary easement for construction. It will affect seven landowners on the north side of Dassel, including Evangelical Covenant Church and the Dassel Cemetery, he said.

The two biggest problems concerning the route selected for the path so far are the church’s sign and the pillars at the entrance to the cemetery.

“Right now, we have planned not to touch the sign,” Mortensen told the Rev. Keith Carlson, pastor of the church.

The county also has not ironed out the details of what to do with the cemetery pillars, explained Meeker County Commissioner Amy Wilde. The plan depends on what was constructed first, the pillars or old Highway 15, what County Road 4 used to be called, she said.

“We don’t have an absolute final plan yet,” Wilde said.

The purpose of the public input meeting was to find out what issues needed to be addressed before the county plans the final details, she said.

Wilde, the county board of commissioners, and the City of Dassel have received numerous complaints about the safety of children on the narrow shouldered road, which extends north from First Street. The road is the way to summer recreation programs at the county park. Children wobble along on their bikes on the road, trying to carry baseball bats and gloves, or fishing poles so they can fish at the docks in the park, Wilde said.

Truckers from Long Lake have reported they often are forced to maneuver around children on the road because the shoulders are so narrow, she added.

The path isn’t a new project, Mortensen said. It is an extension of the school-to-school path put in between Dassel and Cokato, on the north side of Highway 12. That is why the federal government has already provided $80,000 for the estimated $115,000 project, he said.

The school district originally initiated a request for the path. The county is responsible for building it, according to a federal act authorizing the “enhancement,” because the City of Dassel has a population under 5,000, he said.

In addition to increasing safety of children, the land taken in the easement for the path will be taken off the tax rolls, no assessments will be made to adjoining properties, and no one is expected to shovel snow from the path. The school’s summer recreation program, which includes softball, T-ball, and Little League for both girls and boys, is in June and July, Mortensen said.

The path only needs to be dug in a couple of feet. It follows the lay of the land, not the lay of the road. The distance of the path from the center of the road is determined by the speed limit. The faster the speed limit, the farther the path is from the road.

The path extends north from Dassel Elementary School to the northern edge of the Rolling Acres subdivision. Then, it turns east and goes across the edge of Tim Nikolai’s farmland, to the park. The path is limited to the edge of the Nikolai property to maximize the amount of land used for crops, Mortensen said.

Property owners, such as Jim Hanke, said having the path run behind their backyards would invite trespassers, lawbreakers, and snowmobiles into the area.

Mortensen said those were law enforcement issues and residents should not hesitate to call the sheriff or Dassel police if they see trouble.

Hanke also said his ditch will be filled when the path is constructed.

“We have to maintain drainage,” Mortensen agreed.

Hanke and Wally Nikolai, Tim Nikolai’s father, also asked about other route options considered for the path.

The county started looking at options a year ago. For example, one route went to the east of the church, another route went east of the cemetery, and another option went through Gordy Lund’s vacant lot.

There were major problems with all of them. The county can’t put the path over a property owner’s drain field, federal guidelines prohibit the path from being built on a too-steep incline, and Lund wouldn’t be able to sell his lot if the path ran through it, Mortensen said.

Nikolai also asked if there were less expensive options for the school, such as busing the children to the park, or using a different location for summer recreation than the park.

But Mortensen said the buses would have to pick up the children from all over town. Also, the city park had been upgraded for older ball players, so the smaller children need to use the county park instead, he added.

Rhonda Schmieg, representing the cemetery association, expressed concern about the path crossing grave sites or disturbing markers.

Wilde said, though, that there is an aisle between the graves and the cemetery property line. Also, during construction, the integrity of the grave sites will be protected.

Schmieg also said she expected people will park their vehicles on the path during interment ceremonies. Mortensen responded that the City of Dassel, not the county, will need to deal with that issue when it happens.

Nikolai questioned whether $115,000 would be enough to cover the cost of the project.

Mortensen said the cost is divided between the federal government and county in an 80/20 split. The fed’s share of $80,000 was based on the price of bituminous in 2004. The $115,000 estimate is based on the price of bituminous in 2006. Mortensen said he doesn’t know now what the price of bituminous will be in 2008, when construction begins.

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