Mayor’s thoughts on snow, interpretive kiosks and land sale
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Mayor’s thoughts on snow, interpretive kiosks and land sale

The Grand Marais City Council met on February 9 and one of the primary topics of conversation was snow removal. However, the council also talked about a project that may come to fruition in the summer, three interpretive kiosks to be installed along the Highway 61 corridor in the city. And although not on the agenda, the city had a conversation about a possibly pending sale of city land—and the feedback the city has received from citizens.

Snow questions and concerns
There were two comments from the public during the city’s open forum at the start of the meeting. One was from a pedestrian who asked the city to consider clearing a better path to the Grand Marais Post Office. The commenter noted that they appreciate the city crew clearing the south side of Highway 61, but noted that it is difficult to cross at the Post Office corner as traffic speeds up in that area and the snowbanks are not always pushed back far enough.

The second comment regarding snow removal came from Cook County Chamber/Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek who asked for the city’s assistance in clearing the alley that runs between the Grand Marais Dairy Queen and Visit Cook County and the Johnson Heritage Post and the GunFlint Tavern. Jurek noted that this is a very busy alleyway, used for deliveries and downtown traffic. She noted that the alley has become increasingly narrow despite the efforts of the businesses in the area to keep it clear. She said this is a safety concern, as in an emergency it would be difficult for responding vehicles to use the alley. Jurek asked the city to work with the contractor to help remove the snow.

Later in the meeting, the council acknowledge the concerns. Regarding crossing the highway and the high snowbanks, it was noted that this is often a timing issue, as different agencies are clearing the road and sidewalks at different times. City Administrator Mike Roth gave kudos to the city street department, noting that with all the snow that has fallen this year, that has been their sole task, trying to keep up.

The council also discussed the possibility of clearing the alley by Dairy Queen and GunFlint Tavern and noted that the city does not clear alleys. However, it was noted that the alley by Grand Marais City Hall is cleared for city use. Councilors asked if there were other alleys that the city plows, such as from the city parking lot to Wisconsin Avenue, by Sven & Ole’s.

Roth said he would invite the city street crew to come to speak to the council about these issues at the next meeting.

Creative Economy Collaborative gets okay to proceed with kiosks
Visit Cook County’s Linda Jurek remained for discussion of interpretive kiosks planned for along the Highway 61 right-of-way. Jurek and Richard Olson, working with the Creative Economy Collaborative (CEC) presented information on three interpretive kiosks to be placed at the path to the Grand Marais Recreation Park next to North House Folk School; at the intersection of Highway 61 and Wisconsin Street; and at the library.

These kiosks are part of the overall Highway 61 redesign, but were removed from the project when the bid let by the Minnesota Department of Transportation came back at $27,000 per interpretive sign. The city council decided to pull the kiosks from the project and pursue their own design through local artists and contractors.

The preliminary cost estimate for the structure and installation of the three kiosks is $67,000, which the city council acknowledged does not seem like a much lower price. However, Olson pointed out that the MnDOT quote was only for the installation of the kiosk structure and did not include any of the content to be displayed on the sign, which is a significant cost. The CEC will work with the Cook County Historical Society on the information and photos on the sign and will develop an “evergreen” format which will need minimal maintenance.

The city council directed the CEC to proceed with planning and to develop a request for proposals for this project.

City explains land sale decision
Finally, during the time on the city agenda allotted to council reports, the city addressed citizen comments about the possible sale of a city-owned lot located at 1800 West Highway 61, west of the city’s public works facility on the Highway 61 corridor.

Councilors and Mayor Jay DeCoux reviewed the history of this potential land sale to former City Councilor Tim Kennedy, noting that this was an agenda item in July 2021. Discussion of this property was initiated by former City Councilor Tim Kennedy at a council meeting in July 2021. Kennedy completed his city council term in December 2020.

As a citizen, Kennedy suggested that the city obtain an appraisal in case interested buyers approached the city. At that time, he said he had very tentative plans for a new business, a bike shop, and he said the city property could be a good location for that. Kennedy told the city council that if the lot came up for sale, he would be interested.

At that July meeting, the council acknowledged Kennedy’s request and said that there are no plans to sell the lot at this time. However, the council directed city staff to research what needs to be done for a sale of city property to take place. The possible sale of the lot was mentioned in a December 8, 2021 report from City Administrator Mike Roth who told the council that the city is waiting on an appraisal and engineering for sewer service before beginning the discussion of placing city property for sale.  Roth told the council the value will be based on usable space.
The next appearance of the possible lot sale was at the January 26, 2022 council meeting when a closed meeting was held to consider an offer and possible counteroffer on the property. The city council is allowed to have a closed session to discuss real estate negotiations.

However, the closed session caught some members of the public by surprise and at the latest council meeting, on February 9, the council considered those concerns. Councilors noted that the city should develop a policy for the sale of property, but Councilor Craig Schulte also noted that selling land is something that the city does not frequently deal with.

After significant discussion of the process followed in this instance, City Attorney Chris Hood told the council that it had acted appropriately “in the eyes of the law.” He seemed to suggest that because the city deals with this situation so infrequently, a policy is not really necessary and that the city has the authority to decide these things on a case-by-case basis.

City Administrator Mike Roth noted that the land sale is not yet complete. He said he expects Tim Kennedy to come to the next council meeting on Wednesday, February 23 to let the city know if he wants to accept the city’s counteroffer for the property. Roth said in the meantime, anyone who is interested in buying the lot can submit a request to purchase.
PUC vacancies filled

In other business
In other business, the city has successfully filled the vacancies on the Public Utilities Commission. The council received three applicants for the PUC board—Charles Hathaway, Bill Hansen, and Ben Peters. As Ben Peters already serves on the Grand Marais Planning Commission, the city council agreed to appoint Hathaway and Hansen.

The council noted that Peters had an interesting reason for applying to another city board. Peters said that utility use is closely linked to many of the matters addressed by the planning commission and it might be beneficial to have someone on both boards to keep members informed. The city agreed that is a good idea and Administrator Roth said the city would work on that, perhaps having joint PUC and planning commission meetings or appointing a representative to attend both meetings.

There is still a need for members on the Grand Marais Planning Commission, Park Board, and the Grand Library Board. Any citizens interested in serving on those boards should contact Grand Marais City Hall at 218-387-1848 or by email to: communications@grandmarais.city.

The next Grand Marais City Council meeting is Wednesday, February 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the city council chambers. City council meetings can also be viewed online on the city of Grand Marais website.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Mayor Jay DeCoux about actions at the February meeting. Here’s their conversation.

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