Holiday garland might have to go

NEW ULM — The holidays are only a few months away, but due to liability concerns downtown Minnesota Street might go without garlands this year.

Since 1925, fresh garlands featuring lighted bells and stars have adorned downtown New Ulm during the holiday season. The decorations continue to be popular with New Ulm citizens and tourists, but in 2016 the decorations resulted in a fire at the River Bend business. The electrical cable rubbed against the connecting cable, causing an electrical arch and fire.

In 2017, a ground fault circuit was placed on all holidays lights to prevent this from happening again, but this incident sparked a conversation regarding the liability of placing the garlands.

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, City Attorney Roger Hippert said there is no written agreement about suspending the cables and garlands between the city and property owners. The Chamber of Commerce has met with business owners on whether they would be willing to attach a cable to their building and sign a lease agreement.

However, the question of liability is another factor. If the city is going to accept liability, the structural integrity of the buildings needs to be ensured, which requires an inspection that comes at a cost.

City Manager Brian Gramentz received two quotes on the cost to perform inspections of the buildings. Both firms gave the same bid of $5,000 to do preliminary inspection. This inspection would only determine what the buildings were made from. The price to conduct an inspection for each building in which cables are attached could cost $100,000.

Gramentz said if the different types of building could be grouped together in the study, the cost may be lowered by 20 percent, but this is still $80,000. If the report determines the building needs additional work to support the cable and garland, the costs will rise higher.

Council President Charlie Schmitz said there was no money in the budget to cover the extra expense. He said one option was to continue as before for another year without any written agreement.

Hippert said the city owns the cables and the garlands, but it is unclear who is liable in an accident. If the anchor for the cable pulls out causing bricks to fall on a pedestrian, is that the city’s fault or the business owner’s?

Councilor Lisa Fischer said she wanted to hear from the public on which direction to go. She suggested some citizens might wish to donate money to the inspection process.

Mayor Robert Beussman said many people have spoken to him about keeping the garlands because it is a tradition they did not want to lose.

Councilor David Christian said there were only nine weeks until the garlands are set to go up. He doubted there was enough time to conduct a full inspection.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Audra Shaneman said the garlands are very popular, but there has been a lot of change downtown and admitted the garlands may need to change as well.

At this time, there has been no discussion about what to do with downtown decoration without garlands.

The council suggested the Chamber go back to the businesses to determine how they wanted to do go forward.

A special meeting with the downtown business owners and Chamber will be held on Sept. 13 to discuss alternative options.

Hermann Heights

Retaining Wall

For the third the time city council tabled a decision to prepare plans for the Hermann Heights Park hillside stabilization project.

The current Kasota-Stone limestone retaining walls are a safety hazard for groundskeepers and park visitors. The walls have experienced blow-outs which require maintenance.

Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz presented four different options along with estimates given to the council.

The lowest cost option is for $260,000. Only $200,000 is budgeted in 2018 for this project.

This idea is to eliminate the walls and slope the hill similarly to the 5th North Street hillside by the Diocese of New Ulm.

City Councilor Les Schultz favored an option of landscaping the hill to match the Martin Luther College side of Center Street. This option costs $584,675.03 but would reduce mowing. Schultz believes the project could be carried over to another year to cover the additional costs.

“I think this is a one-time funding project, but it’s going to be there for a long time into our future,” Schultz said.

Fischer said she preferred the first option because it sets Hermann apart and she likes the green space. In addition the second option doubles the cost of the project and the city has other expenses to cover.

Fischer made a motion to authorize entering a contract to with Bolton and Menk to prepare plans and specification for the first option. Schmitz seconded the motion, but the motion failed to pass by a two-two vote with Schultz and Christian voting against. Councilor Larry Mack was absent from the meeting, preventing a majority vote.

Facing a split vote, the council chose to table a decision.

In other news

The Johnson Park RENU project was awarded to ISG at $79,000. The entire estimated budget for the project is $1 million or less.

The council did end with a closed session to discuss the terms of City Manager Brian Gramentz’s separation from employment.

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