By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

More than a few years in the making, it seems Houston’s projected Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail is moving along as more decisions are made by the Houston City Council. 

The resolutions passed at Houston City Council’s regular meeting on Feb. 9 does not necessarily mean the Off-Highway Vehicle project will or will not happen, but it does set a few requirements in motion and take a few more steps. 

First of all, the council accepted a sound test proposal from OHV Acoustics LLC from Random Lake, Wisconsin, for $2,000. Grant funds can be used to pay for the study. 

Owner and engineer Alexander Bub said sound tests would be run per two Minnesota departments, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The MPCA’s regulation 7030.0040 test will include readings averaged over an hour of time, while the DNR’s J1287 is a test that every OHV has to pass before being allowed on a trail. This test also applies to larger 4x4s, such as Jeeps.

The company doesn’t stop there, as a background sound level is also averaged for an hour at property line locations closest to the nearest neighbor’s properties. Multiple positions are recorded at the same time using multiple sound level meters. 

It’s not just one OHV that is used for testing. OHV Acoustics uses a minimum of eight OHV’s on the trail for an hour, each of which need to pass the J1287 test before it is considered a test vehicle. 

And though it’s not required, a Housing and Urban Development sound test for high density housing areas will be performed. It’s included in the event that more housing is brought into the area and resides adjacent to the trail system. 

Part two was accepting a Recreational Trails Program grant for a requested $150,000 to help construct the 7.5 miles of trail. The city will need to match 25% for the grant, which is part of the Federal Recreational Trails Program. Additionally, the city can also find monetary help through the Minnesota Trails Assistance Program grants, according to the resolution. 

As a requirement of the grant, the city accepted a prepared Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS), which determines environmental and cultural resource impacts from the proposed trail. 

Summarizing the EAS, it is expected that the trail will not degrade air quality, as previous air quality studies of OHVs have shown little or no impact; the trail will have construction impacts, as it’s yet to be built; the trail will not have an impact on endangered species, as there were no threatended or endangered wildlife found in the project proposal area. Some areas of prairie were found, and the project will protect the prairie, where possible. 

The trail could have some erosion effects, as some trail areas will be in sandy soil. The report cites that the design of the project was done by an Enterprise Team of the US Forest Service to keep trails sustainable and erosion possibilities to a minimum. 

On the noise front, the trail is expected to have some noise, but the report cites the anticipated sound levels will meet the MPCA and federal sound level requirements. 

On the topic of soil, the trail is not expected to contribute to canopy degradation. On wildlife, the trail is expected to have minimal impact to wildlife as the trails are within the City of Houston with the normal movement of people and vehicles near the trails, the report stated. 

If the project is not completed, the city would need to sell the property in order to return the funding to the OHV accounts from which the funding came. 

Two main goals for the project are to bring positive economic impacts through tourism and give local residents a legal and designed place to ride OHVs. 

Finally, part three was submitting a Natural Heritage Information System Data Request form, which is a collection of databases that provides information on Minnesota’s rare plants, animals, native plant communities and other rare features, the form explains. The cost for this report was a minimum fee of $90, but depending on the time it takes to complete, could be higher. 

Still, some residents were concerned about the impacts of the trail, especially on wildlife. International Owl Center Executive Director Karla Bloem expressed concerns that signing off on the EAS before the noise study had been performed, did not “seem like a true statement.” She also wondered if the trail activity would affect deer movement and push them into town. 

On the other hand, the trail could  bring more tourism into town, as Marlene Schultzpointed out. 

“It needs to be tried ... pursued,” Schultzsaid. “...We take four-wheelers across that land all the time. The deer, turkeys, coyotes come back. It might affect the first few months, but not forever. That’s my opinion.”

Mayor Dave Olson pointed out that the people building the trail were not amateurs. 

“They build these all the time. We won’t lose it in a rain storm,” he said. “They’re planting stuff along the trail to deaden the noise.” 

Again, the trail is not yet a done deal for go or no go. 

Wastewater Treatment Facility

The council accepted the low bid from Wapasha Construction, Inc. in Winona for $3,471,000 to construct a wastewater treatment facility.

The city is working with the Minnesota Public Facility Authority (PFA) to utilize the Clean Water Revolving Fund program, which is a low interest loan program with some grant components for communities in the hardship level, a recommendation from Bolton and Menk said. 

The PFA is able to offer about $2.9 million in wastewater infrastructure financing grants with a loan of about $1.26 million on a 30-year repayment term. 

The city did wait a year in order to await a bonding bill that presented grant potential. 

Public comment 

Houston resident Mitch Bublitz asked the council if city water and sewer would be available on his property on Anderson St. where he owns 13 lots and has had interest from people wanting to build. 

However, the council would need a development agreement before utilities would be installed. 

Other news

The council accepted a resolution that supports the reconstruction of Westgate Drive between Cedar St. and West Spruce St., projected for construction in 2023. The resolution will allow pursuit of 2020 Local Road Improvement Program funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). 

That program makes $1.25 million available for cities to apply toward projects on local roads that are regionally significant, result in safety improvements, address transportation deficiencies and contribute to economic development. 

The council accepted the adoption of various stand-alone ordinances in line with the Minnesota Basic Code, 2019 edition. Such ordinances include permits for fences, tree ordinances, weed control, zoning, and more. 

The council approved an annual leveere-certification agreement with MnDOT for Highways 16 and 76. Added this year were two sections of the leveee that were not included in the original flood control agreement. 

The city also accepted a purchase agreement for $12,000 to sell a piece of property on the Prairie Meadows Addition to Lee Zenke. 

Also approved was a Health Savings Account benefit plan for city employees who qualified. 

The council approved a change order for $3,395 in order to install conduits in the police department and community room. 

Lastly, the city authorized a job search for seasonal help this summer, and approved the City Emergency Operations Plan.

The council scheduled the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting on May 10, at 5:30 p.m. 

Next meeting 

The next meeting of the Houston City Council will be March 8, at 6 p.m. at 109 W. Maple St.

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