September 10, 2007

Dassel kids in danger from holding ponds, group says

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The City of Dassel is investigating how other cities protect children from drainage ponds, such as the one at Highview Drive, south of the Galiger’s Lane development.

“If there’s a chance that a child could get killed, God forbid,” said Mayor Ava Flachmeyer.

The holding pond is one of at least six within the city limits, Dassel City Administrator Myles McGrath said Tuesday at the city council meeting.

The council also is planning to change the city’s standard developer’s agreement to include a requirement for safety measures for holding ponds, or install an underground treatment unit instead of a holding pond. Public Works Director Dave Scepaniak described to the council how the underground systems take the place of drainage ponds. The water is collected underground by drainage tile and held there, he said.

“These (existing) ponds, which are a requirement of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, were never contemplated for fencing,” McGrath said in his summary of the business item on the agenda.

Also, if the city chooses to fence the Galiger’s Lane pond, it will need to fence all the ponds within the city, he said.

However, the Galiger’s Lane pond has unusually steep slopes on its shore. If someone were to fall in, it would be difficult to get out of the water, even for an adult, pointed out Council Member Bob Lalone.

“The slope might determine whether a fence goes in,” McGrath agreed.

Brian Kimber, representing a group of 24 families who live on the southeast side of Dassel, the Neighborhood Watch, brought three concerns to the council Tuesday.

The holding pond was number one on the list. “There are a minimum of 22 very young children who live in the vicinity of this pond, and we are concerned for their safety. In particular, there are many children under the age of 5,” Kimber said.

The council also discussed cutting the 18-inch to three-feet high weeds around the pond as a way to help adults see if there are kids in or near the water.

The DNR forbids mowing around the ponds, however, because the weeds filter out dirt and debris, and make it more difficult for children to see and access the water, said Council Member Bob Wilde.

The weeds could be lowered, though. Because of the steepness of the banks, however, the weeds will need to be cut by hand, Scepaniak said.

Scepaniak called holding ponds “a maintenance nightmare.” Not only are they unsightly, but they breed mosquitoes. “I never liked them,” Scepaniak said.

The Galiger’s Lane development is in its first phase. When the second phase is developed the developer’s agreement could include a requirement preventing children from getting into the holding pond, Wilde said.

“In the meantime, I urge parental control,” Flachmeyer said.

Another concern of the Neighborhood Watch was the weeds in the empty lot across the street from the pond. The average weed height was 18 inches high.

“We would like the property owner to mow the weeds, which is what would be expected of us if any of our properties had weeds this high,” Kimber said in his presentation.

The developer has had to be continuously reminded to mow in the past, McGrath said. When the property owner doesn’t mow, the city hires a contractor to mow it, and then bills the property owner for it, he said.

Kimber also said Neighborhood Watch is concerned about speeders in the area. Recently a racing ATV appeared to be driving 60 mph down the hill on Galiger’s Lane, he said.

Kimber called the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office, and Deputy Bill Hudson responded. Hudson pulled over the driver, who claimed he was looking for his brother. Hudson didn’t see the driver speeding, but the ATV was unregistered. Hudson warned him if he drove the ATV again, he would be cited, Hudson told council members.

Kimber said he was dissatisfied with Hudson’s response. Kimber offered to operate a radar gun, and gather speed measurements and license plate numbers for the county.

Minnesota doesn’t allow the use of radar guns by citizens, however, Hudson responded. Radar guns are worth about $5,000 each.

Also, the user must be FCC licensed, added Deputy Brad Lindgren.

The county can add extra patrol, and put a speed trailer, which records speed data, in the neighborhood, he added.

The Third Street railroad crossing was the group’s final concern. “Some of our vehicles are being damaged by the terrible state this crossing is in,” Kimber said.

Flachmeyer said she also recently received three complaints about the railroad crossing.

The county and city are still in negotiation with how to make the crossings wide enough for bean heads, combines and other farm equipment, once the Quiet Zone requirements are met.

Repairs to the crossings will be made at the same time as the Quiet Zone features are installed. City Engineers from Bolton & Menk have advised the city to meet with representatives from Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and them as soon as the meeting can be scheduled, McGrath said.

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