The New Ulm Public Utilities Commission is poised to use a portion of Nehls Park as a site for a new water storage tank. It would replace the tower at Hermann Heights Park, which is deteriorating, and which critics feel detracts from the appearance of the nearby Hermann Monument.
The location makes sense from an engineering standpoint, since the utility work along Summit Avenue is putting in larger water mains that can handle the water flow. And it is out of the way of the New Ulm Municipal Airport's air traffic.
And acquisition costs are nil - the city already owns the land.
But before we appropriate part of one of the city's assets to serve another department, let's consider the city's history of re-using park land.
We've seen photos of German Park when it stretched for blocks beyond its current borders. It was a tree-shaded beauty with walking paths, gazebos and shelters. But somewhere along the line the city decided to build a power generating plant and its utilities headquarters on the park land. No doubt it made engineering sense, and was close to rail service for coal. But German Park was undoubtedly diminished and will never be the same. The city may have saved some money on the siting of the plant, but it suffered a huge aesthetic loss.
The current Hermann Heights water tower is another example of using park land for something else, without concern over its effect on another historic asset, the Hermann Monument.
Twenty-five years ago, the city was looking for a spot to build a new fire station. The city council at the time, led by Bill Gafford, wanted to use more undeveloped park land, at Third South and German Streets, because of costs. The city owned the land. The New Ulm?Fire Department complained that it was a horrible location for the new fire hall, too close to the Goosetown station, and too far from the expanding community on the north side. It took a veto by then-mayor Carl Wyczawski and several years of wrangling to finally come up with the much preferable 8th North and Broadway location.
Before we stick a water tower in Nehls Park, we'd like the city to take some time to consider whether this is the only feasible site, and to consider the potential impact on the park before making a move that will not be reversible.