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CITY COUNCIL: Big-ticket water, street projects approved

Barb Wyman takes the oath of office Tuesday. Wyman was sworn in as interim at-large councilor through December. There is a special election in November for the remaining two years of Adam Bailey’s term; Wyman and three others filed to run for the seat in the general election. Jana Peterson/

Cloquet city councilors approved more than $9.7 million in spending for a new water treatment plant and two street projects during their meeting Tuesday.

However, had Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness not acted to remove the projects from the consent agenda so the city engineer could explain them, the audience at the meeting and watching the meeting recording on CAT-7 would not have known any details of the three projects.

Interim At-Large Councilor Barb Wyman had previously questioned the inclusion of such large projects in the consent agenda, which is supposed to be approved with one motion and no discussion, near the end of the council work session.

"I know what the consent agenda is and why we do it, but why are there so many big items?" asked Wyman, who served one term on the council previously. "The public needs more information. They don't hear all the discussion that goes into these things. I think they deserve it in a public forum."

According to a League of Minnesota Cities guide to meetings, motions and resolutions, a council may establish a consent agenda "containing routine, non-controversial items that need little or no deliberation." In years past, the consent agenda was used mostly for approval items such as bills and payroll or various permit applications.

After the council voted unanimously to remove the three big projects from the consent agenda, Public Works Director Caleb Peterson gave a short presentation on each, and answered questions from councilors, who approved all three projects unanimously.

The most expensive project this summer is the $6.6 million water treatment plant, which will filter manganese from the city's Well No. 8.

Peterson explained that the naturally occurring mineral was considered only an aesthetic issue for many years, but two years ago the scientific community began questioning its impacts to human health. Although it has not yet been added to any official contaminant list, the city was proactive, and removed Well No. 8 from production because it far exceeds acceptable levels.

In his staff report, Peterson noted that the Department of Health offers guideline values of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for infants and 300 ppb for children, adults and nursing mothers.

Well No. 8 tested at 500 ppb.

Well No. 8 also accounts for 30 percent of Cloquet's water capacity, so it's not a good long-term plan to not use the well, as other good water sources have been difficult to find, Peterson said.

The city has received preliminary approval for a loan from the state's drinking water improvement fund, Peterson said, which can be paid back through water rates. That means the city won't have to bond for the project.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves told the council if the state loan falls through, which is unlikely, the project approval would come back to the council.

The two street projects were also approved by the council following short presentations by Peterson.

The council approved a low bid of $2.57 million from Ulland Brothers, Inc. for resurfacing of Cloquet Avenue from state Highway 33 to county Highway 45, along with improvements to sidewalks and handicapped accessibility features like ramps. The city will also add bulb-outs between Ninth Street and 13th Street for a more walkable corridor and stripe bike lanes in each direction.

Additionally, thanks to a $1 million grant from the state, the city will replace the street lighting from Highway 33 to 18th Avenue with energy-efficient LED lighting and decorative poles to match other recent street projects in West End Cloquet. The two signal lights will also be replaced. That project will start after July 4. The city's portion is being paid for out of $2 million in city sales tax funds.

The other street project is for mill and overlay — basically surface removal and repaving — on a number of city streets. The low bid from Northland Constructors of $535,186 came in more than $200,000 below the engineer's estimate. Peterson told the council they've seen a trend of lower pricing on paving bids.

In other matters Tuesday, the council:

• Approved the probationary appointments of Benjamin LaFave and Zachary Sandstrom to the position of police officer. LaFave was an officer for the Fond du Lac Police Department and Sandstrom had been at the Hibbing police department. They replace Pierce Risdon, who resigned in January, and Erik Blesener, who was moved to the school resource officer position.

• Approved a phone system update and fiber optic extension to city facilities to include the hockey arena, the future City Hall and police station (currently Members Cooperative Credit Union), the library and public works facilities.