The Grand Marais City Council met on February 9 and one of the main topics of conversation was snow removal. However, council also talked about a project that could come to fruition this summer, namely three interpretive kiosks that will be installed along the Highway 61 corridor in the city. And while not on the agenda, the city had a conversation about a possible pending sale of municipal land and the feedback the city has received from citizens.
Snow Questions and Concerns
There were two comments from the public during the town’s open forum at the start of the meeting. One was from a pedestrian asking the city to consider clearing a better route to the Grand Marais post office. The commentator noted that they appreciate the city team clearing the south side of Highway 61, but noted that it is difficult to cross around the corner from the post office as traffic picks up speed in that area and the snowbanks are not always far enough back.
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 driveway that connects the Grand Marais Dairy Queen and Visit Cook County and the Johnson Heritage Post and the GunFlint Tavern. . Jurek noted that this is a busy alley, used for deliveries and downtown traffic. She noted that the alley has become increasingly narrow despite efforts by businesses in the area to keep it clear. She said it was a safety issue because in an emergency it would be difficult for response vehicles to use the driveway. Jurek asked the city to work with the contractor to help remove the snow.
Later in the meeting, the board acknowledges the concerns. With respect to crossing the highway and high snow banks, it was noted that it is often a timing issue as different agencies clear the road and sidewalks at different times. City Administrator Mike Roth praised the city’s street department, noting that with all the snow that has fallen this year, that has been their only job, trying to keep up.
The council also discussed the possibility of cleaning the driveway by Dairy Queen and GunFlint Tavern and noted that the city was not cleaning the driveways. However, it was noted that the Grand Marais Town Hall driveway is cleared for town use. Councilors asked if there were any other alleys the city is plowing, such as from the city parking lot to Wisconsin Avenue, by Sven & Ole’s.
Roth said he would invite the city’s street team to come and talk to council about these issues at the next meeting.
Creative Economy Collaborative gets green light to continue with kiosks
Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County stayed to discuss planned interpretive kiosks along the Highway 61 right-of-way. Jurek and Richard Olson, in conjunction with the Creative Economy Collaborative (CEC), presented information on three interpretation kiosks to be placed on the path leading to the Grand Marais leisure park, next to the North House Folk School; at the intersection of Highway 61 and Wisconsin Street; and at the library.
These kiosks are part of the overall redesign of Highway 61, but were removed from the project when the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s bid fell to $27,000 per interpretive sign. The city council decided to remove 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 appear to be 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 content to display 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 develop an “evergreen” format that will require minimal maintenance.
City Council has asked CEC to do the planning and develop a Request for Proposals for this project.
The City explains its decision to sell land
Finally, during the time on the city’s agenda allotted for council reporting, the city responded to citizen comments regarding the possible sale of city-owned land located at 1800 West Highway 61, East 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 Councilman Tim Kennedy, noting it was a July 2021 agenda item. Discussion of this property was initiated by former Councilman Tim Kennedy during a council meeting in July 2021. Kennedy completed his term on city council in December 2020.
As a citizen, Kennedy suggested the city get an appraisal in case interested buyers approach the city. At that time, he said he had very tentative plans for a new business, a bike shop, and he said city property might be a good location for that. Kennedy told the city council that if the land came up for sale, he would be interested.
At that July meeting, the board acknowledged Kennedy’s request and said there were no plans to sell the lot at this time. However, council has asked city staff to research what needs to be done for a sale of city property to occur. The possible sale of the land was mentioned in a Dec. 8, 2021 report by City Administrator Mike Roth who told council that the city was awaiting an assessment and engineering for the sewer service before starting discussion on the sale of city property. Roth told the council that the value will be based on usable space.
The next appearance of the possible sale of the lot came at the January 26, 2022 council meeting when a closed meeting was held to consider an offer and possible counter-offer on the property. The municipal council is authorized to hold a closed session to discuss real estate negotiations.
However, the closed session surprised some members of the public and at the last council meeting on February 9, the council considered these concerns. Councilors noted that the city should develop a policy for the sale of properties, but Councilor Craig Schulte also noted that the sale of land is something the city does not deal with frequently.
After an in-depth discussion of the process followed in this case, City Attorney Chris Hood told council he acted appropriately “in the eyes of the law”. He seemed to suggest that because the city so rarely deals with this situation, a policy isn’t really necessary and that the city has the power to decide these things on a case-by-case basis.
City Administrator Mike Roth noted that the sale of the land has not yet been completed. He said he expects Tim Kennedy to come to the next council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 23 to let the city know if he wants to accept the city’s counteroffer for the property. Roth said that in the meantime, anyone interested in buying the lot can submit a purchase request.
Vacancies at PUC filled
In other cases
In other cases, the city was successful in filling vacancies on the Public Utilities Commission. The board received three nominees for the PUC Board of Directors – Charles Hathaway, Bill Hansen and Ben Peters. As Ben Peters already sits 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 running for another city council. Peters said the use of public services is closely linked to many issues dealt with by the planning commission and that it could be beneficial to have someone in both councils to keep members informed. The city agreed it was a good idea, and Administrator Roth said the city would work on it, perhaps holding joint PUC and planning commission meetings or appointing a representative to attend both meetings. .
There is always a need for members for the Grand Marais Planning Commission, the Park Council and the Great Library Council. All citizens interested in sitting on these councils should contact the Grand Marais town hall at 218-387-1848 or by email at: email@example.com.
The next Grand Marais city council meeting will take place on Wednesday February 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the city council hall. City Council meetings are also available online on the City of Grand Marais website.
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Mayor Jay DeCoux about the actions at the February meeting. Here is their conversation.