By Bonnie Niemela
HOWARD LAKE, MN Approximately 30 people attended a public hearing regarding the possible closing of the 13th Avenue railroad crossing during Tuesday’s Howard Lake City Council meeting, but no action was taken in the matter.
City administrator Nick Haggenmiller gave a brief history of the issue beginning in 2007, when BNSF Railway first approached the city about upgrading the crossing.
The city signed an agreement with BNSF Railway in March regarding upgrades to the crossing to allow continued traffic.
City engineer Barry Glienke listed the options for the crossing. These include closing the intersection entirely, constructing and managing a lockable gate, addressing the low clearance at County Road 6 and then closing the intersection, or upgrading the 13th Avenue crossing to meet whistle-free standards.
If the intersection is closed, there is little to no chance of getting another crossing, according to Glienke.
A lockable gate was determined not to be a feasible option at a previous council meeting.
After staff discussions with Wright County and BNSF earlier this month, it was mutually agreed that it was not economically feasible to address the low-clearance of the County Road 6 bridge.
Glienke observed that upgrades to the crossing are not a guarantee for whistle-free status.
Bentley Tomlin, manager of public projects for BNSF, stated that improvements to the crossing are expected to begin in the next several weeks.
More than 50 Howard Lake residents signed a petition to address the problem of train-related noise and presented it to the council in July. Several residents voiced their concerns during the public hearing.
Resident Steve Gatz clarified that the original petition was not for the closure of the 13th Avenue crossing, but for relief from the noise for nearby residents.
Other residents brought up the fact that semis have gotten stuck on the crossing in the past, and that train traffic has increased significantly in the past five years. The main concern for the affected residents was relief from the noise of the trains.
Opposing viewpoints were also expressed. Ward Westphal, president of the Wright County Fair Board, and Tom Diers, Howard Lake fire chief, voiced their concerns about emergency access and egress to the fairgrounds.
Opponents of the closing said their major concern was that if the crossing is closed, it will not be reopened. This would severely hamper any future use of the land on the northwest side of the city. It would also affect the use of the fairgrounds and hinder any emergency response to that area.
The public hearing closed after all attendees were given the opportunity to speak, and the council meeting reopened. Councilman Al Munson made a motion to close the 13th Avenue crossing. The motion died for lack of a second.
Odds and ends
In other business, the city council:
• approved a conditional use permit for the Orchard Christian Church for the expansion of its existing building.
Conditions include improvements to the parking lot and some additional landscaping.
• adopted a resolution to increase the benefit amount for the fire department relief association from $1,400 to $1,450 per year served on a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Tom Kutz, a member of the fire department, abstaining. This is the first such increase since 2006.
• approved a community center feasibility study agreement with Short Elliot Hendrickson regarding the use of the second floor of the former city hall building.
Funds for this study would come from the Howard Lake City Hall Restoration Group and the Minnesota Historical Cultural Grants Program (Legacy).
• approved the appointment of Martin Ostvig, Jr. to the planning commission,
• accepted the resignation of part-time police officer Krystal Fosdick, and declared the position vacant.
• noted that the municipal liquor store showed a $19,620 profit for the month of July.