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City focuses discussion on Highway 61 reconstruction plans

The Grand Marais City Council met on Wednesday, January 9 and like other local government boards, spent the beginning of the meeting on annual organizational matters.

The council had to select one of its members to serve as acting mayor in the absence of Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux. Tim Kennedy has served as acting mayor in the past and said it was only necessary to do so a few times in the past four years. The council asked Anton Moody to fulfill that role for 2019 and he agreed. A unanimous motion passed to appoint him as acting mayor.

The council approved citizen appointments to several boards—Bev Green to the Cook County/Grand Marais/Economic Development Authority; Judie Johnson to the Library Board; and Jennifer Stoltz to the Park Board. All of those citizens were incumbents.

A new person was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission, Melissa Brown.

And the city still has a vacancy on the Planning Commission. Anyone interested in serving on the planning commission can pick up an application at City Hall or call 218-387-1848 for more information.

The council spent most of Wednesday’s meeting talking about something that wasn’t on the agenda, the Highway 61 redesign through Grand Marais—despite the fact that the council had spent the afternoon in a meeting with MnDOT and the Highway 61 on that subject.

Councilor Tim Kennedy started the discussion, asking his colleagues if they should pass a motion supporting the design plan developed by the Creative Economy Collaborative (CEC). That led to over an hour of debate over various merits of the plan and the planning process.

Councilor Kelly Swearingen reiterated what she said at an earlier meeting, that it seems as if the plan could be cut back in some areas. She likened it to a “really nice evening gown” and asked if the city could be satisfied with that, or did it need a “really sparkly evening gown.”

She expressed concern that the city was overdesigning in the desire to get its money’s worth out of the project. As an example she pointed to a proposed “landing” with concrete seating at Third Street and Third Avenue, in front of the Grand Marais Family Dental Office. She asked if that could be removed and just left as a grassy area, possibly with a bench. She also said a seating area in front of the pharmacy building wasn’t necessary.

New Councilor Craig Schulte said he still has reservations for the proposed lane width. He suggested that the council take a measuring tape to the road and measure the distance for trucks to pass through if cars are parked on either side. He said he would like to see the lane width revisited.

Schulte also said that he and a number of other business owners are concerned about the right-of-way acquisition process. He said after an initial contact, business owners have heard nothing from MnDOT regarding how much road right-of-way MnDOT needed, during construction and permanently.

Schulte and Councilor Anton Moody both expressed concern about trucks making deliveries near Harbor House and Angry Trout. These large vehicles are now able to park on the shoulder area, something that would not be possible when the redesign is complete. City Administrator Mike Roth said a strategy has been put in place for that area. He added that the trucks parking in that manner now are doing so illegally.

After more than an hour of discussion, Swearingen moved to approve the design plan if the Third Street and Third Avenue landing was reduced to a green space and park bench. Councilor Moody seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

Regarding the business owner concerns that Councilor Schulte spoke about, Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux said he would like the names of those individuals so he could talk to them. He said although right-of-way acquisition is not the city’s responsibility, he would like to advocate for the business owners with MnDOT to try to get some answers.

The meeting wrapped up with councilor reports and during his, Moody noted the amount of snow the city had received. He asked the conversation about parking off the street or odd/even day parking could continue.

Administrator Mike Roth said the county is working on that and should be at the next council meeting with a draft ordinance. Roth said because it would take some time to work out the details of ticketing and towing, it is unlikely the ordinance could be enacted this year.

Moody also asked about letters that went out to property owners about parking RVs on streets. He said he had heard from a neighbor who parked his RV next to his house, not exactly behind his house.  The neighbor wondered if that was in compliance with the ordinance.

Administrator Roth said people with questions should contact city hall. Again, that number is 218-387-1848.
Councilor Kelly Swearingen gave a brief report on Gunflint Hills Golf Course. She said six people have applied for the golf course superintendent position.

Swearingen also pointed out that the recent snows had buried many fire hydrants in the city. Roth said the city crew is working to get everything cleared. He said the problem is that there is only one Bobcat with a snowblower, so it takes time to get all around the city.