NEW ULM -Many residents of New Ulm's hilltop are up in arms over the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission's proposal to build a new elevated water storage tank, or water tower, in Nehls Park.
The PUC is seeking to replace the aging elevated water storage tank in Hermann Heights park, which currently serves most of the hilltop's water needs along with the tank at the New Ulm Municipal Airport.
Nehls Park advocates says they have no issue with building a new tank, but they feel building it in Nehls Park will fundamentally disrupt the nature of the space.
This map shows the proposed location of the water tower in Nehls Park (black dot, bottom center).
New Ulm Public Utility Planning and Development Engineer Pat Wrase said the PUC's options are limited on the hilltop.
The densely packed housing fills most of the build-able areas, which is already relatively small due to several bluffs and hillsides that around the area.
"What makes New Ulm beautiful is all our elevation and bluffs. But, that is the same thing that makes it very difficult to put in a sufficient utilities system," said Wrase.
The proposed new elevated water storage tank will upgrade from the Hermann Heights tank's capacity of 100,000 gallons to 500,000 gallons while extending water coverage to up to two miles past Menards. The base of the column will be 30 feet in diameter.
In 2006, the PUC attempted to build a new tank near the intersection of North Highland Avenue and County Road 27. The were stopped when the FAA ruled that the height and location would disrupt plane GPS at the airport. The PUC then attempted to spend a few more years with the Hermann Heights site, but a recent leak revealed they could no longer extend its life much longer.
Wrase said Nehls Park has almost no additional cost compared to Hermann Heights, while the reconstruction of Summit Avenue upgraded the associated pipes to a size that could service the whole hilltop area.
Additionally, he said the location at Nehls Park provided both an out of the way location and a geographically superior site. He explained that rebuilding at Hermann Heights mean little difference in how water flowed throughout the system. This could mean that water pipes breaking a specific locations could shut off water for whole sections of the hilltop area. He said that having it at Nehls allowed the either tank to take over the demand resulting from lost connection from the other tank.
Wrase said Hermann Heights is a secondary site because the New Ulm Park and Recreation Department and the Hermann Monument Society want the tank removed to allow them to expand the nationally registered park. The tank currently occupies space where a new road and parking lot is planned for the park.
"We have a rare opportunity to remove the tank from the park," said Wrase.
Regardless of the current situation, a large number of residents around Nehls Park are adamantly opposed to building the tank in Nehls Park.
Dr. Paul Boehlke, an adjunct professor at MLC, has lead the charge in voice opposition to the plan. He said he uses the park daily and recognizes its wide use for frisbee golf. He said that he is concerned that the tank will fundamentally change the park, similar to how the PUC facility changed German Park.
"What the PUC has to recognize is many people moved to this area because of the beauty of that park," said Boehlke. "If they are looking to ruin on park to help another, it's like robbing from Peter to pay Paul."
He said he also very concerned that the site was selected because the City considers it a free site. He said the City needs to recognize that the aesthetic value of the park also has a value.
Wrase said the park was only selected because it was the only site without additional cost that could make the project to expensive to pursue.
The Nehls Park tank plan is only in the preliminary stage. It will go before the New Ulm City Council on Aug. 21 before moving to the next stage.
Boehlke said he plans to attend to meeting to argue for the park. He said he will present his informal petition with over 100 signatures.
"We just want all the details of the plan throughly laid out. We want to see what went into them making their decision to chose Nehls Park. We also want to see if there is any other place to build the tank," said Boehlke.
Wrase said that if the plan is shot down, the fall back position would be to consider building at Hermann Heights.
The New Ulm Park and Recreation Commission will meet this Monday. One of its agenda items is to declare to the City Council that they do not want the new tank built at Hermann Heights. The Hermann Monument Society has also authored a letter with the same message.
Wrase said the only other option consider so far, though it has not received any official evaluation yet, would be to build up to two miles out of town. He said this would allow the tank to avoid FAA regulations, but could require up to $1 million in additional pipe infrastructure to be built.
The proposal will be discussed on Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. during a meeting of the New Ulm City Council at City Hall.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.