At its April 19 meeting, the Albertville City Council reviewed a recent railway Quiet Zone study and City Administrator Adam Nafstad gave an update on the Creamery Pond property.

Before the general meeting, the council also had a workshop to conduct interviews for the open planning commissioner position. The selected person will be announced at their next meeting after rankings have been submitted by council members.

At the beginning of the general meeting, Andy Berg from Abdo, Eick & Meyers gave the city’s 2020 audit presentation. Council member Aaron Cocking also gave some updates regarding the STMA school district’s financial situation, and said that the Steering Committee — of which he is a member — had met the previous week for the first time to start planning for the potential operating referendum. Cocking also said that the Fire Department is running into some fundraising difficulties due to COVID-19 implications, which the council believes they will be able to work around.

QUIET ZONE STUDY REVIEW

Back in August, the council had Bolton & Menk, Inc. conduct a feasibility study for installing a railway Quiet Zone from 61st Street to Barthel Industrial Drive. However, in December the county committed to railroad crossing improvements at two crossings — Labeaux Avenue NE/CSAH 19 and 61st Street NE/CSAH 37 — and as a result, the city requested that Bolton & Menk expand the study to include the Labeaux Avenue section.

No action was required at this meeting, but the council did have the opportunity to review the updated study and discuss their thoughts.

“The takeaway here is, it is a very expensive project and it is generally split between the county and the city,” said Nafstad. According to the report, the city cost for the improvements necessary to qualify for a Quiet Zone would cost close to $1.5 million.

“All of the crossings need to have gates and lights, and then on top of that there are additional measures that the city would also need to do,” he said. “To get the approval for a Quiet Zone they have a minimum length, I believe it is a half-mile, and within that length you have to mitigate so many risk factors in order to get that area approved.”

Since the county is not required to step in and help with the establishment of this Quiet Zone, Bolton & Menk also suggested an alternative, less expensive option to mitigate railroad complaints. Wayside horns are installed and used to cut down on noise levels, and according to the report, “The main difference with the wayside horn compared to the train horn is the amount of area affected by the noise.”

“The sound from train horns must travel ahead of the train and away from the crossing and still be loud enough to warn drivers in vehicles that may have their windows up and radios on that are approaching the crossing,” they explain in the study. “This then engulfs the surrounding area with sound as the train horn moves along the tracks and approaches the crossing.”

On the other hand, wayside horns are directed up the streets and “thereby does not radiate out as far away from the crossing.”

Nafstad and the council had additional questions about the engineering aspect of the wayside horn system, and will likely re-discuss the topic at a later date. Similarly, the council also looked at photos of potential updated and “safer” pedestrian bays for the crossings, which weren’t well received due to the difficulty to maintain and concern for bikers and folks with accessibility challenges.

CREAMERY POND UPDATE

The council also received an update on the Creamery Pond property, which the city has been frustratingly trying to preserve for future development. These four acres of land have been a topic of council meetings for years now, and last week, city staff and mayor Jillian Hendrickson met to regroup and strategize with a bit of hope.

“We have asked the state on multiple occasions to help us come up with an alternate design that will allow us to preserve this land, with the intent to buy this land back,” said Nafstad.

The relocation of a storm sewer and the pond are presenting more problems with the state, and Mayor Hendrickson ended up turning to Wright County Commissioner Mary Wetter for her help.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a do-over, I don’t think there is any way to get rid of these ponds, although the commissioner was optimistic,” said Nafstad. The city was projected to receive more information later that week.

“Maybe there is still a chance [to preserve the land],” he said.

Mayor Hendrickson is hoping they will be able to reserve at least one of the lots, but as discussed, now there are contractual difficulties that Nafstad says have been “disappointing” and “frustrating.”

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on, but this has been a challenging issue for Albertville,” he said. “They are making a forever decision.”

City staff have tried to put together alternate designs that would meet state standards for the land, but it doesn’t seem like things are headed in the correct direction.

“We did a hotel concept, we did an entertainment, a restaurant concept, so regardless, I know there is a higher and better use than cattails,” said Nafstad.

Mayor Hendrickson and the council thanked Nafstad for his consistent work in trying to preserve the land over the past few years.

“To know that you have worked through this politely for us and have been ignored every step of the way is infuriating,” she said. “So, thank you for trying.”

OTHER

ACCEPTED the lowest bid for the 2021 Street Improvement project from Knife River, who will be completing a mill and overlay on various city streets. Nafstad said that the city received “very competitive bids” this year.

DISCUSSED potentially joining the Wright County EDA. The council had further questions about how this body is governed, its levy abilities for members, and the organization’s general intention. The council will reassess this topic at a future meeting with more information.

APPROVED the revisions and updates to the 2021 Fire Department Standard Operating Policies and Procedures.

Copyright © 2021 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

Recommended for you

Load comments