City tables decision on trading old water treatment property

NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council tabled a decision on a request to trade the old water treatment facility at 12th North and Water Street for adjacent land on the Minnesota River, Tuesday.

A request came from Jim Scheman to trade adjacent property for the building. When possible, the city acquires land adjacent to the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers for public use.

The building has not been actively used for water treatment for many years. The building is currently in need of repair.

The Public Utilities Company (PUC) has not repaired the building as it was in their long-term plans to demolish it. The PUC gave control of the old building to the city following last week’s PUC meeting.

The Brown County property information sheet values the city parcel at $174,100. Scheman’s parcel is valued at $73,000. City Manager Brian Gramentz said neither evaluation is likely accurate.

Any trade would include an easement requirement to give the city access to the wells and maintain a section of the bike trail and the underground water pipe.

Gramentz said excavations may be necessary to locate the piping. The exact location of the pipe is in question.

Public Utilities Director Rod Marshall presented a map to the council and pointed out the utility easements in the area that would be necessary to secure before trading the property. Marshall visited the building and informed the council he smelled mold.

He was unsure if it was toxic mold, but believes an assessment should be conducted to ensure it is a safe environment to enter. Other items could be identified in an environmental assessment. Both lead paint and asbestos could be present in the building. Marshall also confirmed there were bats in the building. He could not confirm which species of bat lived in the building, but if they are an endangered species of bat, this could pose further problems.

Marshall said these conditions need to be assessed. If the city knows about an issue and sells the building, the city could be held liable to clean it up later.

Community Development Director David Schnobrich confirmed the building has flooded in the past.

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the city could avoid liability if the property is sold with a disclaimer identifying the problems.

“The buyer has some obligation to investigate, but I wouldn’t want there to be bad feelings, like somehow he was duped into something,” Hippert said.

Councilor David Christian said he was unwilling to vote on this trade until all the concerns were studied.

Council President Charlie Schmitz said it was in the city and PUC’s interest to get rid of the property in the long run, and encouraged the PUC to research the easements needed.

Councilor Larry Mack said by giving it to Scheman the property enters the tax roll. He supported conducting excavation to fine the water mains to move forward. Mack said even if the property is demolished by the city, the location of the water main is necessary information.

The council chose to table this decision until the PUC could provide more information.

In other news:

• The Minnesota Valley Council of Governments (MVCOG) was approached to provide a letter of support for an application to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for grant funding. The money is for planning regarding the creation of a Regional Transportation Coordination Council (RTCC). The council agreed to support the application to MnDOT.

The intent of RTCC would be to connect stakeholders interested in improving mobility for transportation disadvantaged individuals, such as seniors, disabled, low income and military veterans. It is hoped the RTCC could coordinate between transportation providers, service agents and the private sector to fill transportation gaps.

• The council approved a preliminary plat for the Depot 2nd Addition at 200 S. Valley St. This plan would permit the transfer of a storage building from Heyco to Canadian Pacific Railway. The preliminary plat was previously recommended for approval by the planning commission.

• An ordinance regarding the regulation and traffic control of snowmobile and all-terrain vehicles was adopted by the council. The ordinance establishes the hours in which a snowmobile can be operated within the city, as well as minimum age of the operator. The ordinance also restricts operation of a snowmobile on roads except when crossing.

• The council received a report on efforts to improve the railroad crossing in Goosetown. Gramentz said there are plans to create a temporary fix to the worst crossings to get the city through the winter. New timbers will be laid at the high traffic crossings. The non-treated timbers at the intersections only have a lifespan of 10 months. The plan is to bring treated timber for the fix. The asphalt at the crossing will also need to be milled down by the city to give a flatter surface at the crossing.