Township acquires Co. Rd. 124

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 7/6/00.

County Road 124 After discussions that lasted more than an hour on Monday, June 26, the Paynesville Township Board of Super-visors approved acquiring County Road 124 from Stearns County.

Supervisors Don Pietsch and Warren Nehring voted in favor of taking responsibility for the road. Supervisor John Atwood abstained from the voting.

To compensate the township, the county has agreed to pay a lump sum payment of $392,000, which includes $272,000 for resurfacing the road, $100,000 for widening the road, and $20,000 for two years of maintenance.

In making the motion to acquire the road, Nehring said he thought the deal was economically feasible and that the township would be able to maintain services on the road. Pietsch agreed, saying, "If I thought what we're going to get is not going to cover that road, I'd be the last one to stick my neck out."

Atwood said a trail around the lake is a good idea, but should be away from front yards. He said he wanted time to do a feasibility study on the trail. "I'm going to abstain at this time," he said, "and I'll let you two decide that."

Off road trail
The discussion about Co. Rd. 124 started with Ed McIntee, who asked to be put on the agenda to speak for residents who were concerned about taking over the road. McIntee said he was confused, after attending the public hearing on Co. Rd. 124 at the previous township meeting, as to whether the trail and road were separate issues.

Throughout the meeting, Pietsch and Jeff Bertram, who the township has hired as a consultant to spearhead the trail project, assured the audience that the layout of the trail has not been determined yet. While the township's discussions with the county about taking over Co. Rd. 124 began because of the trail project, the trail is still in the planning stages.

"If we take it over," Pietsch said of Co. Rd. 124, "as I see it, there's no guarantee that there will be a trail along that road. It's an option."

Bertram claimed misinformation about the trail was circulating in the township. He stressed that the trail should be kept out of the road right of way as much as possible to make the trail safer and more interesting. "To have it just along the road would make it the most boring trail in the state of Minnesota," Bertram said.

Grant money would be impossible to obtain for the widening of shoulders on a road, Bertram added.

After consulting with Pietsch and driving along Co. Rd. 124, Bertram said, "Sixty percent of the trail, as we saw it, wouldn't even be along the road. The trail is not set in stone. We will look at options."

Towards the end of the discussion, Julie Atwood asked again where the trail would go. "How do you get past 124 if you go around the lake?" she asked Bertram, who showed frustration while repeating his intention to locate the trail off the road as much as possible.

Bertram did not want to discuss any ideas for locating the trail on private property without approaching the land owner first.

Pietsch said parts of the trail would need to be in the road right of way if there were no alternative routes on private land.

McIntee also asked why the township would want liability for the trail when the county doesn't.

Pietsch responded that all kinds of people walk on the roads currently, and the township could be held liable for accidents. Creating a trail, a safer place to walk and bike, would reduce the chances of an accident, this thinking goes.

Gary Swenson, who serves on a trail committee that Bertram established, said the county indicated at the public hearing that they didn't want to be involved with a trail on a county road as it would set a precedent for the rest of the county. (Serving on the trail committee with Bertram are Paul Osborne of the Jaycees, county commissioner Don Otte, Johnnie Olson, Swenson, Pastor Lonnie Gleitz, and Mary Hahn.)

George Cromwell, who lives on Co. Rd. 124, doesn't think the lump sum will cover the cost of fixing the road properly. "The main thing we're concerned about is the expense of the road," he said.

"I would hope to God that Mitch Anderson (Stearns County's highway engineer) and the county highway department wouldn't lead you astray," said Bertram of the county's estimations.

Pietsch said he was confident that the road costs would be covered by the lump sum. Furthermore, he pointed out that the county would only be doing an overlay in 2002. The cost of an overlay is estimated at $272,000. By getting the lump sum, the township would be getting an additional $100,000 he said.

As to whether the county would really turn the road back to the township without a lump sum, former supervisor Johnnie Olson noted that the idea of turning back Co. Rd. 124 did not start with the trail project. Six years ago, the township and county talked about swapping Co. Rd. 124 for the Tri-County Road, but Kandiyohi County balked at sharing that road with Stearns County, he said.

Bertram offered to bet a cup of coffee that the township would get Co. Rd. 124 back once the overlay was done in 2002 anyway. He said Stearns County doesn't want to spend money in the western portions of the county. "They haven't wanted that road for years," he said.

"This is the best deal you're going to get," he added.

When Loren Meyer, another Co. Rd. 124 resident, finally asked who opposed the trail, four hands went up in the crowd of 30 people. "Would you rather have (people) walking on the shoulder or on the road?" Meyer asked. "They're walking on the road now." Meyer felt an eight-foot wide trail would be the safest alternative.

Tonya and Cory Meagher, who also live on Co. Rd. 124, spoke about their opposition to the trail. Tonya Meagher said the trail should be on the lake side.

Cory Meagher said four-foot shoulders on the road were okay. He knew and trusted local people walking along the road. A trail, however, would attract outsiders, which made him worry for his kid's safety.

The road right of way is public property, Yvonne Swenson noted in response. "We may have used it," she said, "but it's not ours."

Bertram said more misinformation is circulating about snowmobiles on the trail. Once again, he said, he wanted to assure the audience that the trail would be for pedestrians and motorized vehicles would not be permitted. "It's no different if a snowmobile goes down 124 right now," he explained. "It's illegal, and that's why you have the police."

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