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Dassel mayor wants railroad crossing repair to start in spring

February 18, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Dassel Mayor Ava Flachmeyer wants to start repair of the railroad crossings at Third and Fourth streets, and installation of quiet zone features this spring, she said.

During a workshop about city goals last Monday, city council members expressed their frustration at the delay and lack of response from MnDOT and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad with the three-part crossing project.

The three parts are: repair of the crossings, repair of the pavement next to the crossings, and installation of the quiet zone features.

Costs for repair of the Third Street crossing have reached $58,000, of which the railroad will contribute 20 percent. The city’s share would be $47,000.

“The crossing continues to deteriorate and will only grow worse. Most likely, deterioration will escalate at a growing rate due to the current conditions,” City Administrator Myles McGrath said in the workshop’s agenda.

Because of the cost of a full repair, city council members asked city engineer Chuck DeWolf of Bolton & Menk to contact the railroad about replacing only the timbers in the crossing. He did, weeks ago, but is still waiting for a response.

In addition, the quiet zone installation requires delineators, or curb-like devices that run north and south in the center of Third and Fourth streets. The safety devices prevent vehicles from going around down crossing arms when a train approaches Dassel. Once Dassel has these safety devices, trains are no longer required to blow their horns at the crossings, creating a quiet zone.

Fourth Street, however, is also Meeker County State Aid Highway 4. Meeker County Engineer Ron Mortensen said the quiet zone installations at Fourth Street must allow wide agricultural equipment to pass through or farmers will be forced to drive their slow-moving equipment on Trunk Highway 15 to get through Dassel, he said Tuesday.

DeWolf proposed making the delineators or curbs flexible, so if wide farm equipment passes through the crossing, the delineators will bend and then pop back to their original shape, once the equipment is through the crossing.

Mortensen took DeWolf’s proposal for flexible delineators to several engineers in MnDOT’s Willmar office for approval, Mortensen said Tuesday. Mortensen and DeWolf are still waiting for a response.

Not only do the noise of the trains’ horns and the poor condition of the crossings annoy residents, but also the vibrations are annoying. Council Member Bob Lalone complained about vibrations from heavily-loaded trains roaring through town, causing dishes to rattle and fall off shelving and cracks to form in the walls of his home at Sellards Drive.

Lalone suggested Dewolf refer to the railroad crossings as “infrastructure” when he approaches MnDOT again about the flexible delineators and the poor condition of the crossings. Minnesotans are more aware of “infrastructure” problems since the I-35 bridge collapsed Aug. 1, he said.

The council directed Dewolf to give the railroad and MnDOT two more weeks to respond, and then the city will start on the project with the information it has.

In addition to the railroad crossing, another goal discussed was a skate park in Dassel. Public Works Director Dave Scepaniak said the two locations suggested by the eighth graders from Dassel Cokato Middle School, Breeds Park and next to where the ice skating rink in Red Rooster Industrial Park, won’t work. The city doesn’t own the land next to the ice skating rink. Also, a skate park will harm the aesthetics of Breed’s Park. A gazebo has been proposed for the park instead, Scepaniak said.

He recommended placing the 3,000-to-3,500-square-foot skate park where the horseshoe pits are located near DC Saints Ball Park.

According to Dewolf, the skate park in Litchfield is popular. However, the skate park in Cokato failed. McGrath asked Cokato City Administrator Don Levens why the Cokato skate park didn’t work out. Levens told McGrath he thought the Cokato Skate Park needed too much supervision, and was a magnet for vandals.

City council members intend to check into deadlines for a grant application and other details.

Another goal discussed by the city council is adding a 3,100-square-foot community room to the Dassel Area Historical Society’s 3,600-square-foot annex planned for the Universal Laboratory building. The last estimate for a community room was $201,000. McGrath said he fears if the city delayed action, the cost for a community room will increase significantly.

Other activities in the Ergot Building not related to museum displays might damage the refurbished historical building, he added.

Another city goal discussed by the council was future development and annexation. Michael and Leslie Corcoran asked the city to bond for a $110,000 sewer and water expansion to their eight-acre housing development next to Spring Lake. However, the city does not pay up-front costs for other developers, so it declined to pay for the up-front costs related to the Corcorans’ development, also, Flachmeyer said.

If the Corcorans choose to have their property annexed into Dassel, the annexation process will begin at the same time as their preliminary plat is considered for approval, McGrath said.

Other goals discussed by the council at the workshop were the industrial park, a new water tower, Spring Lake Park trail, liquor store project, maintenance of sewer lines, improving the on-call policy for city public works and maintenance workers, purchase requisitions, nuisance ordinance, city logo, downtown street lights, hiring a person to market Dassel, the League of Minnesota Cities conference in Dassel Oct. 23, and best value bidding.

The next regular city council meeting will be 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19.

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