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Paynesville Press - July 6, 2005

Highway 23 study draws comments at public hearing

By Michael Jacobson

An open house and public hearing about the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Highway 23 attracted approximately 115 local residents on Tuesday, June 28.

The open house - from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the school auditorium - offered a time for residents to look at maps for the proposed route alternatives and to ask questions of MnDOT staff and their consulting engineers.

The public hearing in the auditorium featured a half-hour presentation about the draft EIS and proposed route options by Tom Parker, project manager for the consulting engineering firm Edwards and Kelsey. Parker described the possible routes, outlined the study process, and listed the engineering factors and potential economic and environmental impacts of the possible routes. (See the chart at right for a summary of the route impacts.)

The five options for Highway 23 studied in the draft EIS are:
Route chart *No build - keeping the existing alignment with only regular maintenance and minor changes, an option that needs to be studied by law;
*Improving the thru-town route - expanding the road to four lanes through Paynesville and also addressing some geometric deficiencies (changing the intersection with Highway 55 by moving Highway 23 slightly to the southeast and flattening some of the curves in town);
*East bypass - continuing to run east at the end of the airport and going through the driving range, going over Co. Rd. 181, intersecting with Highway 55 east of town, going over Co. Rd. 34, running past the city well fields, crossing the railroad and the river, and joining the existing highway east of town;
*Far west bypass - Running on the far side of the new airport in Roseville Township, crossing the river and intersecting with Highway 55 a mile west of town, and then running along 185th Street and past the city sewer ponds before joining the existing highway east of town;
*West bypass - Turning around the end of the new airport, running a few hundred yards west of the current highway (basically on the other side of the row of businesses across from the high school), going over Main Street, crossing the Crow River slightly to the west of the current crossing, intersecting with Highway 55 west of the river, then following 185th Street, running past the city sewer ponds, and rejoining the existing highway east of town.

Then, 20 area residents gave their opinions about the proposed options for Highway 23 over the next 45 minutes.

Draft EIS chart The public hearing, scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m., was drawn to a close just before 9 p.m.

Residents can still comment about the draft EIS and route options for Highway 23 until Thursday, July 21. (This closing date has been extended from Monday, July 18.) Send written comments to: Lowell Flaten, MnDOT - District 8 Project Manager; 2505 Transportation Road; Willmar, MN 56201-0768. His fax number is 320-231-5168. (Comment cards, for written comments, were also distributed last week.)

Copies of the draft EIS are available locally for public viewing at Paynesville City Hall and at the Paynesville Public Library (as well as at the MnDOT offices in Willmar and St. Cloud). These copies are available for on-site viewing only and are not available for check out.

The 100-page draft EIS is also available online at through a series of pdf files.

Comments - both from the public and from government agencies - will be addressed and used by MnDOT, Edwards and Kelsey, and the Federal Highway Administra-tion to determine a "preferred alternative," along with the data from the draft EIS. They hope to collect and address comments and to meet and discuss the "preferred alternative" by the end of August; a determination of the "preferred alternative," or future route of Highway 23, should be made this fall.

Then, a final EIS will need to be prepared, and a record of decision from the Federal Highway Admini-stration will issue a record of decision, expected in 2006.

Actual construction of any new route in Paynesville is still unknown. Current MnDOT funding does not call for the project until 2017 but $4.5 million in special funding has been included in the federal energy bill by the House of Representatives. That bill - which would require that the money be spent during its six-year life - could allow for an earlier project, but the federal energy bill has been stalled. (Last year, $5 million was earmarked for Highway 23 in the bill, but it never became law.)

Harold Easterday
Harold Easterday of Paynesville, a 25-year business owner downtown, characterized himself as pro-business and stressed the need to make Paynesville accessible from whatever route is selected. While dismissing the four-lane through-town option as too disruptive, he said that Highway 23 should have stoplights and that motorists should have the option to follow the existing route of Highway 23 as a Business 23.

"I like what you're doing in Spicer. You've slowed down traffic," said Easterday. "There are stoplights. People can stop there if they wish. You've made it very attractive."

Business interests should be considered when selecting the future route and shape of Highway 23, he stressed, because "the decision you're about to make is going to affect Paynesville forever."

Timothy Huber
Timothy Huber, who described himself as a lifelong Paynesville resident, said a four-lane highway through town as too much congestion and said the far west bypass offered the most room for future development and for easiest access, especially considering that people from Belgrade, Regal, Lake Henry, St. Martin, and Roscoe also use Highway 23.

Later, Huber added that Rockville was growing after a bypass of Highway 23 was built there.

Doris Wendlandt
Doris Wendlandt, owner of Queen Bee's Bar and Grill, also stressed the need to make Paynesville easily accessible from the new highway, especially easy access to downtown. "If the highway goes way around Paynesville it's not going to be easy access to stop because Spicer, Willmar, and St. Cloud are just down the road," she said. She rejected the idea that businesses could easily move to the new highway.

But, Wendlandt also stressed the need for safety and for consideration with the younger generations with highway improvements.

Peter Schoell
Peter Schoell, owner of the Koronis Cinema, also was concerned about the economic portion of the draft EIS and questioned the report for not having details about the impacts to business. The western bypasses would impact every business, he said.

He also questioned the growth projections in the report (25 percent projected growth in the next 20 years, when growth over the last 30 was only 18 percent and the city lost population slightly over the last ten years). "I don't see any evidence to support that (projected growth)," he said.

Ian Pelton
Ian Pelton, who just sold his house on Highway 23 in Paynesville and moved to another part of town, said he hopes the highway does not go through town. Paynesville's vibrancy does not depend on the highway going right through town, he argued, citing his hometown in Ohio, which he said was dying despite having six major highways and five railroads. "It's dying not because of that," said Pelton, "but it's not surviving because of that."

Dick Butler
Dick Butler, a 45-year resident of Paynesville, said the through-town four-lane highway was the worst choice. "Frankly, I don't want to cross a four-lane highway to get downtown and take part of your goods and services," he said.

He also said that he thought the east bypass would be a mistake. Even no improvements would be better than a four-lane through town or the east bypass, he said. "I would hate to see this community ruined by a four-lane highway through town," he said.

He said the far west was his personal choice, and the best route, because of its ability to handle traffic.

The business community of Paynesville has already changed, said Butler, citing the loss of retail stores, but the town was alive and vital. "Don't worry that Paynesville is going to die," he said. "It's got too many positive things happening in it. You know that. That's why you're here. So what if it is a bedroom community. People spend money in a bedroom community. Let's make it the best bedroom community that we can."

Ron Stebbins
Ron Stebbins - who grew up in Paynesville, now lives in Spicer, and runs an antique store in Paynesville - said it was important to keep business in Paynesville and that antique stores, in addition to restaurants and gas stations, rely on highway traffic for customers.

Having traveled a great deal as a salesman for 15 years, he said the west bypass made the most sense. "Towns that do not have good accessibility to the highwayŠthey die, they dry up, they wither," he said.

Dick Michaelis
Dick Michaelis, a businessman in Paynesville for 32 years, described himself as pro-business and stressed the need for attractive entrances to town. On the other hand, he recognized that highways are meant to move people, citing his own preference to take I-94 to the Twin Cities now, where he might have taken Highway 55 in the past.

He said he always dreamed about a field full of business where the new airport now stands.

If he had to pick, he said, he would choose the far west bypass, and he thinks the town would grow to the new highway.

Roger Bengtson
Roger Bengtson of Willmar, whose business (Johnson Funeral Home) would be jeopardized by the four-lane through-town route, said the bypasses still need to offer access to Paynesville. In Willmar, he said, half the traffic seems to take the bypass and half still goes through town. If exits to Paynesville were clearly marked and clearly accessible, "I don't see where Paynesville is going to change," he said.

The speed limit, accounting for the 5-mph grace, needs to be 30 or 40 mph to insure access, he said.

He also wondered how many farmers would be impacted by each bypass and how pedestrians would be impacted by crossing a four-lane highway.

Paul Bugbee
Paul Bugbee, owner of BugBee Hive Resort on Lake Koronis, said he was thrilled to have a four-lane highway coming to Paynesville. He said that Paynesville is the best tourist area in the state, short of being the home of Paul Bunyan, and that tourism would grow and be an even greater economic force with the increased accessibility of a four-lane highway.

Whatever the route chosen, said Bugbee, it would benefit Paynesville by providing better access. The town would meet the challenge whatever route is chosen, he added.

Susan Voss
Susan Voss of Paynesville said she is glad to live in a little town and that she hopes it doesn't grow. "I think our community is safer being little," she said.

She said she would trust the professionals on the highway decision.

Gerald Meyer
Gerald Meyer, who has lived on Highway 23 in Paynesville for 32 years, said the traffic is getting worse. "I find that the traffic has become unbearable," he said. "The semi traffic is unbearable. Sometimes my house shakes."

A through-town highway would be very divisive, he said, and we would be nuts to choose it. "I think if you choose a through-town route you'll greatly regret it in 20 years and want to get rid of it," said Meyer, whose house would be taken by the through-town route.

He said he did not know the best route, but he said the east bypass was too divisive between the town and the lake and the far west bypass went too far from town. "If you move it too far, you lose the benefit of the highway," he said.

He wondered if keeping the existing alignment of Highway 23 on the west end of town to the Highway 55 intersection and then going north of town had been studied sufficiently.

Heather Schumacher
Heather Schumacher of Roscoe said safety for kids should be a prime consideration. She said she won't let her kids walk from school to downtown because it's not safe.

Having grown up in the New London-Spicer area, she said she was against the alignment of the four-lane highway in Spicer.

Bob Westvig
Bob Westvig, owner of the Dairy Queen, agreed that safety for kids should be a prime concern. His advice was to "go west," though access to town was still important.

Westvig also questioned when the highway would be built and noted that the indecision was an impediment to buying, selling, and remodeling property. "Let's get the thing on the ground," he said.

Robert Meyer
Robert Meyer - who wants to build a house on his property in Paynesville Township, which would be affected by the west bypass or the far west bypass - said he was told that we would know the future route of Highway 23 by November 2003. But he said he didn't want to build a house and then have the highway go through his backyard.

"Let's get the show on the road and find out where the road is going to go so we can get on with our lives," he said.

Jack Binsfeld
Jack Binsfeld, the retired founder of Koronis Tire, said he and his wife are against the west bypass because it would go through their kitchen. They don't like that option because they think they have the prettiest lot in Paynesville on the west end of town, he said.

Koronis Tire, despite getting 80 or 85 percent (maybe more) of its business from local customers, would be affected by changing traffic patterns due to the new highway, and he feared that they would lose customers who were unwilling to drive an extra mile, citing a 25-percent drop in business when the highway bridge over the Crow River was replaced.

Paynesville needs to remain accessible from the new highway, he said, and the community needs to have good signs promoting itself.

Jack Bugbee
Jack Bugbee, who said he has lived in Paynesville for longer than he wants people to know, echoed Binsfeld's sentiments that the town needed to have beautiful accesses from the new highway.

He asked people to raise their hands if they took Highway 12 to the Twin Cities (none), Highway 55 (a few), and Highway 23 (a few more). "My personal feeling is we're all prone to take the line of least resistance," he said.

Gary Reeck
Gary Reeck, who farms in Zion Township, said he thinks the west bypass makes the most sense. But, if it is chosen, he noted that it lacks a good access to north of town. Farmers, residents from Lake Henry, and residents from St. Martin all need access to Paynesville, said Reeck. "There's a lot of business that comes from north of town to Paynesville," he said.

Trisha Wendlandt
Trisha Wendlandt, a 2004 PAHS graduate, said she hopes to have a lake house here in 20 years and wants to have good access to Paynesville.

She agreed that the town needed to have good access to the north and needs to keep business interests in mind so Paynesville does not become a "ghost town." Access to St. Cloud for teenagers is also important, she said.

Jeff Thompson
Jeff Thompson, the mayor of Paynesville, noted the importance of transportation to town and its being a driving factor in the growth of Paynesville, citing the fact that the location of the present downtown was the result of the railroad coming to town.

Still, Highway 55 used to come right through town, and Paynesville survived when that highway route was changed. "We are a resilient community," he said. "No matter the outcome, we will survive."

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