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Paynesville Press - Sept. 03, 2003

City council backs dropping bypass route

By Michael Jacobson and Bonnie Jo Hanson

The Paynesville City Council passed a resolution last week asking that MnDOT drop from consideration the far west bypass for Highway 23, despite protests from several township residents who attended the council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27.

The city council has been pursuing dropping the far west bypass from consideration ever since an informal survey was conducted last month. In that survey, the council members unanimously agreed that they would not be willing to drop the constitutional requirement that Highway 23 touch the city limits. The far west bypass does not do this. "The council has agreed that the highway should touch the city," said council member Harlan Beek last week. "We agree on this."

Then, on Monday, Aug. 27, the city council, the supervisors for Paynesville Township, and the local Highway 23 task force met with MnDOT project engineer Lowell Flaten, and the city council asked asked MnDOT to drop this route. Flaten said he would bring that recommendation back to MnDOT for discussion.

With five possible routes for Highway 23 - no build, improve thru town, east bypass, west bypass, and far west bypass - the current study of the future route of the road is nearly 18 months behind the original schedule. The city council - which rates the far west bypass as fourth best, ahead of only the no-build option - has asked MnDOT to drop it from consideration to speed the process.

Far West Bypass Map

But the township residents at the city council meeting last week urged the council to reconsider. More studies need to be done on the cost of each route, said township resident Ken Gniffke, who thinks that it's too early and not enough information is known to eliminate a route.

"I couldn't make a decision until the studies are 100 percent finished," added Dick Michaelis, a former city council member who now lives in the township.

Both Michaelis, Gniffke, and Marv Fasen, who also spoke to the council, live on Highway 23 just west of Paynesville. Their houses, if either the west or east bypass were chosen, would be between the old highway and the new four-lane highway. Gniffke and Michaelis told the council that they and their neighbors do not want to be boxed in.

Eliminating the far west bypass would leave only the east and west as bypass options.

That concerned city resident Randy Kern. "If anything is eliminated, it should be the in-town route," he told the council, "and we all know it will be eliminated, and that only leaves two routes."

In its recent study, the council identified the west bypass as their top choice.

The far west bypass would give the city lots of room to expand to the new highway, said Kern, a reason frequently cited in that route's favor. But the council members said that annexation would not go that far. It would cost too much to take city services (water and sewer) that far, said council member Dave Peschong.

In the city's last orderly annexation agreement with the township, providing water and sewer services were a necessary factor when annexing township property into the city.

In the city's recent comprehensive plan, the area just north of town - between the current city limits and 185th Street - is identified as possible for annexation. This area would be between the new highway and the city if either the far west bypass or the west bypass were chosen.

Fasen noted that the far west bypass does have support from the township supervisors and urged the council to listen to the township a little more.

But, with the highway study running months behind, the council seems to want to help speed the process along while showing signs of progress. If another route is eliminated, the far west bypass could be brought back into the study at a later date, noted council member Dennis Zimmerman.

Whether MnDOT will agree to the council's recommendation to drop the far west bypass from consideration is still not known.

MnDOT could press ahead with studying the route, and even back it as the best route, but likely will not want to provoke a conflict with the city, which has the right to approve changes to Highway 23 due to the constitutional requirement that it serves the city of Paynesville.

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