Council’s patience running short with CP over crossings

NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council is preparing to put the pressure on Canadian Pacific (CP) Railroad to make necessary railroad crossing repairs.

City Manager Chris Dalton gave an update on efforts to improve New Ulm’s railroad crossings in New Ulm.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Dalton said. “The city doesn’t own the railroad crossings. They are not ours to maintain. It is solely the responsibility of the railroad to fix those crossings. We can’t touch them even if we want to.”

The conditions of the roadway at railroad crossings have been a city concern for years. According to city staff emails, the city has attempted to contact Canadian Pacific (CP) Public Works representatives about the crossings as early as December 2017.

A representative of CP inspected the New Ulm crossing in June 2018 and estimated 182 wooden planks needed to be replaced at four crossings (3rd South, 7th South, 12 South, and Valley Streets). Also, a mill was needed to grind down the bituminous surface between the tracks. However, in an August email, the CP representative informed the city they did not have the budget to rent a mill and asked the city could support a milling machine.

The city was prepared to begin milling in September 2018, but CP crews were tied up with other projects and were unable to acquire materials needed.

In May, the city was informed the railroad did not have the funding for these repair projects and asked if New Ulm would be willing to share the costs for material and labor.

New Ulm is in continued discussions with CP regarding the repairs, but no action has been taken at this time.

Dalton said (CP) has a pattern of not responding to emails, or redirecting inquiries regarding repairs to another individual. In his most recent communication CP, Roadmaster Benjamin Harter said they would be able to complete three of four crossings this year. No schedule for these repairs has been submitted to the city at this time.

On July 10, CP’s new manager of Public Works emailed City Engineer Steve Koehler and said this would be reviewed by CP’s new Assistant Chief Engineer.

Dalton said he did not like telling the council to ‘wait and see,’ but recommended giving CP until August to take action on the three promised crossings. Dalton wanted to maintain a relationship with CP to ensure problems are fixed on a long-term basis.

Councilor Les Schultz said he appreciated city managers optimism, but said these repair issues go back 11 years.

“They say they are going to be there next week and then no one shows up,” he said.

Schultz asked if there was legal action to be taken. “This is a dangerous intersection. We know these boards go up when people cross. Someone is going to get hurt, it’s only a matter of time.”

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the city could contact state railroad commission and the federal railroad Inspectors. Hippert agreed the railroad crossing was a problem and suggested giving CP a deadline to take action, before taking the issue to the commission and inspectors.

Councilor David Christian understood the desire to maintain a positive relationship ship with the railroad, but said CP has taken no action over ten years.

“It is ridiculous to have your railroad crossing look like this,” he said. “I’ll play nice for another month or two, but after that, I am going to push.”

Schultz said he felt the railroad was waiting for something bad to happen before taking action and said at some point they will need to say enough is enough.

City Engineer Koehler said he was as frustrated as anyone about the situation, but said in his last communication with CP it was indicated the company was experiencing turnover in their maintenance department.

“I would frankly like to give them a few more weeks,” he said. “I feel its finally turning around.”

Koehler’s greatest concern is drivers trying to avoid broken boards will not notice oncoming trains and lead to a fatality. He believed the city could push for repairs as a safety concern.

“We’re not going to wait until September 1,” Koehler said. “We’re going to continue to poke the bear, but I don’t want to use a club on a bear just yet.”

The council agreed to place the railroad crossing on their next agenda in August and receive an update on CP’s actions if any.

German Park

Amphitheater

The German Park Amphitheater improvement plans and specifications will be sent out for bids next month. The council agreed to seek bids to determine the actual costs of this project.

This project has been discussed for a decade. The earthen and grass seating terraces have slumped and degraded, making them unusable for lawn chairs. Also, the terraces are inaccessible to the mobility-impaired.

The present construction cost estimate is $776,353.50. To date, $457,725 has been received in cash and pledges for this project. Fundraising efforts continue, but the project has a shortfall of over $318,000.

Christian said he suspected the bids could come in higher than the estimate. He suggested requesting alternates into the bids for some of the amphitheater features.

It was suggested the central staircase in the design could be bid as an alternate, which could reduce the cost by $53,000.

Council President Charlie Schmitz agreed with going out for bids to get real numbers and alternatives to based their decision.

The council unanimously approved seeking bids for the project, but Christian reminded the general public this was only to receive bids and did not lock the city into moving forward with construction or incurring costs.

The bid solicitation will request alternates bids for the amphitheater canopy and staircase.

Prignitz Portrait sent to Monument Commission

The council requested the Cemetery and Monument Commission review a request to install a metal portrait of Christian Prignitz on the north side of the power plant building facing German Park.

Denis Warta approached city staff to attach a 12-foot portrait of Prignitz to the power plant. The recommendation previously came before the Public Utilities Commission and Park and Recreation Commission and was approved by both, but the council believed this installation qualified as a monument and wanted it reviewed by the appropriate commission first.

The council had more questions of the long-term maintenance of the portrait including cleaning.

Prignitz was a pioneer surveyor and in 1858 drew the plat of New Ulm. This plat design was unique because it featured wide streets before automobiles and the inclusion of public parks, gardening plots, market squares, and urban forests.

Warta said his design for New Ulm was one of a few city plats that did not need to be updated in 150 years. Warta said only another city with this distinction was New York City.

The portrait of Prignitz would overlook German Park, which he designed in his original plat. The portrait will be lit with solar panels at night. It was suggested the portrait would include security cameras, which is what brought it before the city council. Warta has since said this was a rumor.

Public Hearings

A noise variance request for a street dance was approved following a public hearing. The New Ulm Small Business Group has requested a noise variance for a street dance from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday, July 27 on Minnesota Street and Center Street to 1st North Street. The event will play amplified music. The city received no comments in regards to this variance.

A second public hearing was held for the final assessment rolls for the 2018 Surface Reconstruction project will be held. Twelve blocks are affected by the project including 2nd South Street from Washington to Payne, 3rd South Street from State Street to Jefferson, 6th South Street from Broadway to Washington, 11th South Street from Broadway to Franklin and 17th North Street from Washington Street to Franklin.

The council will consider assessing properties on these streets at $1,485 per residential parcel while assigning incremental benefit to non-residential parcels. The assessment is payable over 10 years with a 4.4 percent simple interest to the unpaid balance.

City Engineer Steve Koehler said the 4.4 percent simple interest was tied to the bond issue for financing the project.

No comments were made during the hearing. The assessment was unanimously approved.

Another public hearing was held on a request from Kraft Heinz (KH) Food Company for a one-year extension of the compliance date for the job wage goals associated with their Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) project.

New Ulm received a $435,000 MIF grant from the State of Minnesota through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to assist with facility improvements at 2525 Bridge Street. This loan is forgivable if KH complies with project job and investment goals by May 1, 2019.

KH was able to make the investment requirement of $20 million and retain 361 full-time positions but fell short of the 50 new full-time positions with a base wage of $17 per hour. At this time KH has provided 26 new full-time positions. The extension would give KH until May 1, 2020, to add additional full-time workers. If KH does not meet the job goal, they will need to repay $8,700 plus interest for jobs not created.

The council approved the extension and made amendments to the contract reflecting the extension.

A tax abatement for Careen, Inc. (doing business as Windings, Inc.) was approved for a project at 15 Somsen Street. Careen is proceeding with plans to consolidate three existing business locations into the former Elkay building in the Airport Industrial Park. The maximum abatement amount is $356,280. The maximum annual abatement is $17,814.

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