Paynesville Township and Stearns County have negotiated a deal whereby the township would take over the road with a lump sum payment of $392,000. That sum includes $272,000 for resurfacing the road, $100,000 for widening it to include a pedestrian trail, and $20,000 for two years of maintenance.
The public hearing, held at the township office during a regular monthly meeting of the township board, was conducted by Mitch Anderson, the highway engineer for Stearns County. The county is required to hold a public hearing before turning a road over to the township.
Negotiations between the county and the township began last fall. The discussion about County Road 124 started due to the proposed pedestrian trail around Lake Koronis. An effort was made to make County Road 124 the first leg of that trail.
In working with the county, three options emerged, according to Don Pietsch, chairman of the Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors. The first was to wait until 2002, when the road was scheduled for an overlay of asphalt. The second option was to have the county widen each shoulder by four feet, and the third option was for the township to take over the road and put an eight-foot trail on one side.
Forty local residents attended the hearing, which lasted 75 minutes.
A number of residents expressed some concerns with the transfer from the county to the township. Their concerns ranged from fearing cost overruns to the ability of the township to maintain the road at the same level as the county, the feasibility of widening the road, and the interference of increased traffic on the road. Residents also wondered why the township wanted a project the county didn't want.
After a question about who initiated the turn back proceedings, Anderson said it was a mutual decision between the township and the county. The county is not turning back roads systematically, he added, but County Road 124 is a fitting candidate. The road, he said, serves no county purpose, as it does not connect towns or other roads. It serves residences, and has a faster alternate route in Highway 55.
Linus Nistler, a resident along County Road 124, asked what the township would do if the project cost more than the county's lump sum. He said the road was built 60 years ago and could need considerable work to its base. "I still can't see how $390,000 will cover the costs for rebuilding the road," Nistler added. "I think your estimates are way off."
Others asked if the price would include rising costs of crude oil, which could make tarring more expensive, and if the project would be supervised and inspected at county standards.
Later in the meeting, Pietsch defended the price, saying, "We'll have egg on our face if the thing runs $450,000, but I'll trust the county figures."
Another supervisor, Warren Nehring, added that the township board would not have to accept the bids if they came back that high.
One suggestion from the public was to have the county rebuild the road and then turn it over to the township.
The county, though, is unwilling to put an eight-foot trail on one side of the road. The county has 965 miles of roads, according to Anderson, and they fear setting a precedent that would lead to other requests throughout the county. "We will be asked to build one somewhere else if we build one here," said Anderson.
Pietsch said the township board believes that a trail on one side is the safest option. Safer than having three feet of shoulder like on County Road 181. "We think eight feet all on one side lends a safer situation for walking and biking," Pietsch said.
Several residents offered support for acquiring the road, citing the increased safety. Linda Mayer, a township resident who does not live along 124 or the lake, said her first reaction to the trail proposal was that it would be a safe way to get kids to the public beach on Lake Koronis.
Paul Osborne, who helped organize the trail effort for the Jaycees, said the project started to do that, and grew into a trail around the lake. He stressed that the money from the county could have more impact if used as the local share of matching grants.
"If we don't build a safe trail," added Jeff Bertram, who the township has hired to spearhead the project, "there will be some grant money that we don't get."
Peter Jacobson, president of the Koronis Lake Association (KLA), and the publisher of this newspaper, said the association's board supported the eight-foot trail for safety reasons. KLA has given $10,000 for the project, as has the city of Paynesville.
Service concerns by residents centered on the township's ability to repair the road and to plow snow along the road. George Cromwell called the county's snow plowing "perfect" but said the township didn't have much of a reputation.
Others noted that the trail faced difficulties along County Road 124. One problem area could be Kruger's Pond, where there is little room to widen the trail.
The township would receive all 66 feet of road right of way from the county. That is 33 feet on both sides of the center line.
Another problem for the trail is crossing Highway 55. Both ends of County Road 124 could be reshaped during construction to make them more perpendicular.
The final concern by residents was the increased traffic caused by the road. Arnold Wolf said backing out from residences is already dangerous and would become more difficult with more pedestrian traffic.
Gloria Boie, who lives along Highway 55, warned that snowmobiles are even more dangerous when crossing driveways. Bertram, though, assured her that the trail would be nonmotorized year-round.
A number of residents felt that putting the trail along Highway 55 would be a better option. "It makes more sense to move the trail to 55," said Wolf. "In the long run, it will save money."
Along 55, they said, there was more room to separate the trail from the vehicle traffic with an actual boulevard. (On County Road 124, the pedestrian trail most likely would be divided from the vehicle lanes by a rumble strip.)
Anderson and Bertram doubted that the state would allow a trail to run in its right of way for an extended stretch. Johnnie Olson, a former township supervisor, did contact the state about putting the trail in the right of way, but only to get the trail from County Road 124 to Paynesville.
Tanya Cromwell concluded the meeting by asking if anyone present would be concerned if the trail would be on the lake side of County Road 124. And no one raised a hand.
Bertram said the actual route of the trail has not been decided yet.
Don Otte, the county commissioner representing the area, thought deciding which side to place the road ought to be easy. "You should be able to handle striping," said Otte, who was in attendance.
The county commissioners were scheduled to discuss turning back County Road 124 at their meeting yesterday.
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