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Paynesville Press - August 17, 2005

Draft EIS attracts wide array of comments

By Michael Jacobson

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) received a total of 85 comments - 20 oral comments at the public hearing in June and 65 written comments - about the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the study being done to determine the future route of Highway 23 in Paynesville.

MnDOT and its consulting engineers are currently reviewing and addressing these comments. They plan to use these comments, along with information collected in the draft EIS to select a "preferred alternative" this fall. This process started with the collection of these oral and written comments, and MnDOT and its consulting engineers met with the Federal Highway Administration on Tuesday, Aug. 16, to discuss these comments and continue discussing the selection of a "preferred alternative."

check with group A task force meeting is expected to be held in Paynesville - in September or October - to announce a "preferred alternative," said MnDOT project manager Lowell Flaten.

Paynesville City Council members Tom Lindquist (left), Mayor Jeff Thompson (center), Jeff Bertram (second from right), and Dennis Zimmerman (right) posed with Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Watertown) and a $7.1 million check for Highway 23 in Paynesville last week.

Also last week, President George W. Bush signed into law a federal transportation bill that included $7.1 million in funding for Highway 23 in Paynesville as a high-priority project. Four Minnesota Congressmen included Highway 23 in the bill: $2.5 million by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-St. Paul), $2 million by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Watertown), $1.6 million by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Detroit Lakes), and $1 million for Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minneapolis).

With this $7.1 million, as well as $1.9 million received last year, MnDOT has tentatively scheduled the Highway 23 project for 2009. But the route still needs to be decided.

The 85 comments about Highway 23 included 68 from individuals; ten from governmental agencies, including the city of Paynesville (backing the west route), Roseville Township (also backing the west route, and against the far west), and Zion Township (expressing concern about the road connections to north of town if either the west or far west route is chosen); three from Indian tribes (which raised no objections but two of which asked for input if any human remains are found); two from Chamber of Commerces; and two petitions.

The Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce said that a bypass would be okay if speeds were reduced and multiple accesses were made to the community, and the Willmar Lakes Chamber of Commerce backed the west route.

A petition from 168 Koronis Hills Golf Course members and patrons expressed opposition to the east route, which would eliminate the driving range, maintenance garage, and part of the second hole at the course. "Koronis Hills Golf Course is a first-rate recreational facility, and this...bypass would cause irreparable harm to the routing integrity and viability of the golf course," the petition states.

A petition from 73 business people in the community cited their concerns about the loss of business if traffic is diverted on a new highway. In light of the Paynesville City Council backing the west route, these business people asked for input on the final design, including slower speeds; on stoplight placement; on directing traffic through town via a Business 23; on streetlights; and on landscaping.

Though MnDOT does not plan to count votes, that is to choose the most popular route, but rather to use the merit of the comments (along with other information from the study) to pick the best route. Still, to judge the flavor of the comments on the draft EIS, the far west alternative was preferred in 24 comments, the west alternative in 19 comments (in addition to the 73 business people on the petition), the east in five, improving the thru town in two, and the no build in one. The far west was also listed as a second choice by four comments, the west as a second choice by three, and the east as a second choice by two.

(Twenty-three comments did not list a preference, while some listed more than one.)

On the contrary, 17 comments were against improving the thru town route, nine were against the east (in addition to the 168 who signed the golf petition against the east bypass), nine were against the far west, four against the west, and three against the no build. (This count does not includes questions about a particular route; only stated preferences against it.)

What follows are excerpts of the written comments that MnDOT received during the official comment period on the draft EIS in June and July. These comments - which ranged from single sentences to multiple-page letters - can be downloaded in full at, along with summations of the oral comments from the public hearing in June.

Government Comments
Ten governmental bodies or agencies commented about the draft EIS: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmen-tal Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Minnesota DNR, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Paynesville City Council, the Roseville Township Board of Supervisors, the Stearns County Engineer, and the Zion Township Board of Supervisors. Comments ranged from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's concern over its geodetic control monuments (if any) in the construction area to the FAA's concern over the flight space at the airport to the Department of Health and Human Services wanting the draft EIS to examine any lead or asbestos contamination in the houses to be relocated.

Among the local comments, the Paynesville City Council opposed the far west (too far to existing business and too costly to extend city services), opposed improving the thru town (loss of tax base and safety concerns plus too much traffic, noise, and air pollution), opposed the east bypass (splits the city from the township and cuts through a prime residential growth area), opposed the no build (since increase traffic will increase congestion), and supported the west bypass (as having the least problems and most compromises).

The city council also reiterated its intention not to waive the city's right for Highway 23 to abut or traverse the city limits, as required constitutionally. This was a requirement the city has used to threaten the far west alternative. But, since this comment, the city, as noted by several comments, has annexed 230 acres to the north side, which also would abut the far west alternative.

Roseville Township opposed the far west alternative and supported the west alternative.

Zion Township (as well as numerous individual comments) listed its concern as the connections to north of town, which would be disrupted or severed if the west or far west were chosen (see below). And Stearns County Engineer Mitchell Anderson also wrote about his concerns to the rerouting of two of these road connections: Co. Rd. 33 and Co. Rd. 130 by the west or far west alternatives.

The Environmental Protection Agency classified all the routes as "EC-2," meaning it has environmental concerns due to insufficient information (about the potential problem or possible mitigation) in the draft EIS. Specifically, the EPA wants to know how many upland forest acres would be impacted by each route; what measures are currently in place to protect the city wells from spills on Highway 23; and what measures could be put into place to protect the river from contamination from a spill on the highway if a bypass were chosen. Furthermore, the EPA notes that the loss of forest habitat along the river should be minimized (or voluntarily replaced); the loss of wetlands should be minimized (or compensated); and noise impacts are projected to be greater in 2025 on all the build alternatives than the no build (thus requiring emphasis on mitigation measures that could be enacted). The Minnesota DNR comments about trail impacts (including the far west alternative and the Glacial Lakes State Trail along the Stearns-Kandiyohi line); wetland impacts (questioning if the wetland delineations, which were done in November and December 2003, are accurate; and floodplain impacts (both to the river, by all three bypass routes, and to the city wells, primarily by the east alternative).

The far west alternative would require the realignment of Roseville Road, and while preliminary investigations, according to the draft EIS, indicate that both the far west alignment and the realigned Roseville Road could be rerouted on the east bank of the river, a mitigation measure listed in the draft EIS would be to rechannel the river if needed. "The Minnesota DNR would have major reservations about an alternative that required moving the North Fork Crow River," its comment stated.

"In summary, the far west and east alternatives appear to have the most impacts to the area's natural resources," stated the DNR.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency lists its concerns primarily as stormwater runoff and asks for a stormwater pollution prevention plan for construction as well as a permanent stormwater pollution prevention plan for the selected alternative.

Connection North of Town
Zion Township, both its board and a number of citizens, expressed concern that the three main roads from north of town - Co. Rd. 33, Co. Rd. 130, and 293rd Avenue - would have altered connections to Paynesville. "We want to make certain there is a convenient access to Paynesville, without having to travel extra miles to get into town," wrote township clerk Carolyn Reeck on behalf of the board.

"Both the far west and the west corridor alternatives sever existing Co. Rd. 130 and Co. Rd. 33 as they extend north of Paynesville," said Mitchell Anderson, Stearns County Engineer. "The west alternative does reestablish a new Co. Rd. 130 alignment but leaves Co. Rd. 33 severed. There exists on both alternatives an interchange at Lake Avenue; however, Lake Avenue does not extend north of 18th Street."

Anderson also cited daily vehicle traffic of 730 and 640 on Co. Rd. 130 and Co. Rd. 33 in 2003 and said these interrupted movements would be difficult to reestablish as the far west and west alternatives are currently planned.

"I would like to know how someone living north of Paynesville would reach Paynesville if a 'west corridor' is chosen?" asked a Zion Township resident. "We live near Co. Rd. 130 and often use that road. Many others use 293rd Avenue and Co. Rd. 33. Where are the intersections that these roads would access? How much extra travel would be involved? How would machinery get to the major implement dealers and vice versa? Would the old railroad underpass be necessary, as that would be difficult for wide machinery? How would supplies, including anhydrous tanks and spraying equipment from Paynesville Cenex get to us and back? How would loaded milk trucks access AMPI?"

Concern that Co. Rd. 33 should stay open to Highway 23, and not become a cul-de-sac, as would happen with the west or far west as currently designed, was also expressed. "As captain on our fire department, we consider that road our main route to our northeast area," wrote Roger Torborg. "It is the only paved road going north of town where we don't have to cross railroad tracks and take the risk of having to wait for trains to switch cars or just pass thru."

On the other hand, one writer dismissed these concerns. "At the public hearing, there was concern about persons from north of town being able to get into town to do business. I really don't see this option as much of a concern on this issue, as they would still have a ways to get into town. They would probably just have to adjust a little to a new route to take."

East Alternative
The east alternative did get some backers in the comments to MnDOT (five), but this was outnumbered by its critics, including a petition from 168 golfers and supporters concerned about its impact to the golf course.

Former principal John Janotta indicated his concern over the east route due to the loss of school property and to its impact on the golf course. "Many people do not realize that the golf driving range is on school property," wrote Janotta. "Nearly ten years ago the school district and the golf course worked out an arrangement that allowed Koronis Hills Golf Course to build and maintain, but not own, the current driving range, which is on school property. In return, a long-term agreement was worked out in which the school would not have to pay the golf course for the driving range usage, for golf team practices and meets, for cross country practices and meets, and for physical education classes pertaining to golf and cross country skiing. This continues to be an excellent agreement for both parties. However, the east bypass would wipe out all these agreements."

"Expansion plans (at the golf course) were not only pursued, but we addressed concerns for environmental issues that will make it difficult to restructure the present 18-hole routing," continue Janotta. "A land trust on golf course property was established to preserve sensitive land between the golf course and Lake Koronis. This land is never to be used for any type of expansion or building project. To move or rearrange the golf course holes or driving range at this time is impractical and virtually impossible because of that."

"Had a decision been made years earlier by the state, this probably would have been an ideal route, even though it affects the golf course. Now, it should not be considered," wrote another local citizen.

Far West Alternative
The far west alternative got substantial support (24 preferences) but also strong opposition (nine votes). As at the public hearing, many city residents favored moving Highway 23 traffic (and congestion) as far out of the city as possible.

"When traveling, I don't like driving through every small town," wrote a local resident. "I like the option of easy and safe access, but prefer to bypass the community if I so choose. Rockville is a good example of this 'well-developed bypass.' Therefore, I believe the far west bypass would be the best route. The other west route has too many tight curves and seems awkward to effectively keep the flow of traffic moving along this busy Highway 23."

Supporters of the far west cited its safety, its ability to handle traffic, and its being the best at relieving congestion in town.

The far west is the clear choice because the goal is to move traffic, wrote another long-time resident. "As a lifelong Paynesville resident...let me make my final plea for reason to prevail over parochialism, as regards selection of the future route of Highway 23 in the Paynesville area," he added. "The choice of the far west option, as the best alternative, seems so obvious to me that it is almost a 'no-brainer.' "

"Oh, yes, there is a very vocal insistence, from a few in the business faction, that Paynesville would turn into a 'second Rockville' if the new Highway 23 doesn't, at least, touch the city. I can't buy that one!" he continued. "Neither can I believe that the 'city fathers' have the final word, as to which route is chosen."

"There are many personal reasons why people prefer each of the possible routes, but we must consider what is best for the majority now and for the future," wrote another former businessman and long-time Paynesville resident.

"This alternative will most efficiently move traffic, and it has the least amount of disruption to existing homes and businesses," wrote another local resident.

"I personally do not think the town's businesses will dry up using the far west route. People who stop in Paynesville will still come with easy access," wrote another former business owner.

"With all that in mind, I just feel the most logical place to put the highway would be the far west route and let the town build to it. Downtowns have changed lots over the past few decades. We have lost lots of business over the past years. All this happened with more and more traffic going through town. People just don't shop for a lot of items in small towns like they used to. We are not the complete one-stop shopping town like we were 30 years ago," wrote another business owner. "Highways are meant to move traffic quickly and efficiently. As business people, we need to be smart enough to get people in our doors and not rely on slowing traffic to our front door."

Others rejected the far west bypass as being too far from town. "We believe this route would be the death of our town. This was the reason we wanted this route dropped at an earlier time: to stop further money from being spent on it," wrote a business owner.

"It would truly bypass Paynesville, out of sight, out of mind, so to speak," wrote two business owners.

"The far west route is too far from Paynesville. It doesn't bring travelers close enough to current businesses. It is not fair to current businesses to be so far from the highway," wrote a local citizen.

West Alternative
"This would appear to be the best compromise route, being near town and allowing smooth traffic flow," wrote Roseville Township supervisor Mike Flanders in a personal letter to MnDOT. "I have talked to many of our citizens about this over the past couple years and have found this to be the opinion of the vast majority."

"We strongly believe that the near west route is by far the best," wrote another local couple. "It will allow close access and view of the city and will allow people to go downtown quite easily without directing the increasing noise of traffic to go through the middle of the city. It also will allow freer movement about town that will be safer than it is now."

The west alternative also got strong support from a half dozen out-of-town businessmen who travel Highway 23 through Paynesville. "I travel Highway 23 from St. Cloud to Willmar once a week for business and support the west option around Paynesville," wrote one.

"In my opinion, the west option is the best. It provides good, safe traffic flow while allowing accessibility to Paynesville. All the people I talk to are impressed and pleased with the sections of 23 that have been completed. The Paynesville section is a real key. Left uncompleted, it will be a major bottleneck," wrote another out-of-town businessman.

While the west got the preference from 19 comments, it also faced some opposition (four). In addition to concerns over access to north of town, the west alternative would cut access from the new airport to the city and could be a safety hazard, being so near the school.

One writer felt the west alternative was the best route before the new airport was built (and would still be the best if the airport were moved).

"I feel by choosing the west bypass it will have an access near to our present school that has many inexperienced drivers at a high traffic point in our community, making this a safety hazard with high flow of traffic moving at greater speed," wrote another local resident.

Thru Town Alternative
Traffic and safety highlighted the opposition to improving the thru-town route, which had many more comments in opposition (17) than in support (3).

"Ludicrous," wrote one city resident about improving the thru-town route: "The curves through town have always been an issue and have seen several semi-trailers overturned. This will wipe a huge share of the city's tax base. I honestly don't see how having a four-lane through the town will help any of the business economics. I believe all the current business relies on local clientele, not people commuting from point A to B."

"I realize that I have a biased view because of living...(on Highway 23)...for over 40 years, but the increase in traffic flow will just keep increasing through a major residential section of town," wrote another city resident.

"Reasons why we would like to keep Highway 23 out of town: less highway noise, smells, pollution, and people don't want to slow down for small towns!" wrote a local couple.

"Traffic now is fast and hard to enter Highway 23. This solution would only worsen the situation," said a Highway 23 resident in Paynesville Township.

"As a 12-year resident living right on Highway 23 in town, I have to tell you that nothing would make me happier than too see a bypass around town. When we looked at the property we purchased, the noise and traffic levels weren't even a consideration. Now, just a few years later, we can't even leave our living room windows open anymore because of the noise," wrote a couple who live on Highway 23 in town.

"Downtown business owners who are upset at the possible loss of business if the highway bypasses need to understand that during the probably two years it takes to build the through-town, people will go elsewhere to buy groceries, go to a movie, or grab a bite to eat if they can't get to where they want to go. And a good many of them probably won't come back!" they added.

"Four lanes through town destroys too much of the community," wrote a business owner on Highway 23 in Paynesville.

Improving the thru-town route did have a few supporters. "We believe that to best serve Paynesville and the entire community as a whole the best choice would be to improve the existing Highway 23," wrote a couple who own a business along Highway 23 in Paynesville. "This existing route has served the entire area very well and has served us very well in our 25 plus years of business."

"Why would you choose any but the cheapest? Our state can't even settle on a state budget, and you want to possibly spend twice the amount on one of the other proposed amounts," wrote a local couple, citing the lower cost to build four lanes through town (estimated cost at $18 million) versus the three bypass routes (whose estimated costs all exceed $30 million).

No Build Alternative
The no build alternative got little attention in the comments. More (three) opposed it, citing the need for a better highway, while one noted that this option would still service Paynesville for many years.

"Rule out the no build option; we need a better highway," wrote one business owner in summary of the opposition to this option.

"Highway 23 needs to be four lanes as soon as possible. The traffic grows day by day," wrote another local resident.

"The west route is best if you have to build, but 'no build' works for quite a few years," wrote another business owner on Highway 23 in Paynesville. "Spending $20 million to save Willmar residents two minutes to get to St. Cloud does not seem like good economic sense for us taxpayers. A four-lane bypass makes no sense if Richmond to Paynesville is two lanes and Paynesville to New London is two lanes."

Original comments (pdf format): Comments #1 | Comments #2 | Comments #3 | Leach Lake Indians | Keweenaw Bay Indians | Lac Vieux Deser Band

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