City council reverses decision, approves sanitary sewer line

Some residents living on West Prospect Avenue, Spruce Street and South Oak Street will get a new sanitary sewer line thanks to language in a contract between the city of Cloquet and a developer building a 29-unit apartment building nearby.

Some residents living on West Prospect Avenue, Spruce Street and South Oak Street will get a new sanitary sewer line thanks to language in a contract between the city of Cloquet and a developer building a 29-unit apartment building nearby.

At a public hearing to discuss the proposed sewer line in August, city councilors voted against the project 4 to 3. Area residents attending the meeting were also opposed to the project and the assessments they believed would come if such a project were completed.

After that meeting, however, city staff reviewed a development agreement between the city and Summit Development. Under this agreement, the city had previously agreed to provide financial assistance to the developer in exchange for the construction of the apartment building on the corner of Oak Street and Big Lake Road.

Specifically, the city committed to the issuance of a tax increment financing note to fund a portion of the cost of the sanitary sewer extension to the property. Half the cost of the extension project would be funded with the tax increment proceeds and this would happen if the developer performed as detailed in the agreement.

City staff met with two different attorneys, both of whom indicated the city could be found in violation of the development agreement if they did not fund a portion of the cost of the sewer line.


In light of this finding, at a Sept. 4 meeting, council members approved a motion to reconsider the project on Oct. 2. All property owners were again sent notices about the discussion scheduled for the Tuesday's meeting and many were in attendance as councilors flipped their decision again by one vote. This time, four councilors voted in favor and three voted against with David Bjerkness, Herb Johnson, Deb Hill and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren voting in the affirmative, and council members Erik Blesener, Tom Proux and Neil Nemmers voting against.

Council member Herb Johnson spoke at the end of the meeting about his affirmative vote.

"I have not changed my mind regarding this housing development," he explained. "I simply have changed my vote to protect the city from entering into a legal battle we could not win. This issue was actually decided last year as part of the overall development agreement that I did not support."

The sewer line will service properties adjacent to the named streets, terminating at a point next to the proposed apartment building. Currently, no sanitary services are in this area and at many properties in this area, private septic systems are used and, in some cases, they are old and failing, according to Fritsinger. The city has proposed constructing a lift station within the city right-of-way, along West Prospect.

The Planning Commission previously approved the site plan and city council members previously approved tax increment assistance.

An assessment hearing will be held at a later date for affected property owners and city council members to discuss the level, if any, and method of assessments proposed to be levied on the properties.

In other business, the city council unanimously approved abolishing the Cloquet Police/Fire Civil Service Commission, effective Feb. 1, 2008.

The council has discussed this idea with a focus on the hiring, promotional and disciplinary processes used by the Commission. With commission and police and fire chief input, it appeared that police and fire employees have two ways to file a grievance, through the commission and through the normal channels available to every city employee. Most Minnesota cities have abolished their commissions, according to Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren.


"This really gives police and fire two bites at the grievance apple," he said. "If they don't like what they find down one avenue, they just choose to head down another, wasting time and money."

Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande said their first concern when discussing this idea was to verify that all employee rights would be covered, even if the commission did not exist. He found this to be the case.

"Employees would still be afforded all rights and protections under state and federal laws and existing labor agreements," he said.

Lamirande met with union officials as well to get their insight and said those representatives did not have a problem with it.

After voting to abolish the Commission, the Council further directed Cloquet city staff to meet with an attorney to develop an advisory board process for consideration at a future meeting.

Council members also approved the new City of Cloquet CDIC Loan Fund Policy, created with funds previously donated from the Cloquet Development Industrial Corporation (CDIC). The CDIC asked the city to continue to use the $80,000 in funds for the benefit of the business community and economic development. The City of Cloquet Economic Development Authority will administer the loan program.

At the end of the meeting, Dave Johnson of the Pinehurst Citizens Working Group presented city council members with packets containing sand swimming facility information, including a petition with nearly 1,500 signatures in favor of that option.

The Cloquet Parks Commission will hold a meeting at Cloquet City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 4:30 p.m. to present the consultant's design and redesign for concrete pool plans and to review swimming pool options.


"I expect them to really take a look at all the options and to look at formalizing a schedule to have a decision made in the near future," Fritsinger said.

Pine Journal Editor Lisa Baumann can be contacted at: .

What To Read Next
Get Local