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New bike path to be added on Geneva Road

Bicyclists may soon have a new path to pedal.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council took the first steps in a project that would build a bike path parallel to Geneva Road, on the northwest side, between Birch Avenue and County Road 73.

The path would be part of a reconstruction project on Geneva Road. The new road would include two 11-foot driving lanes with three-foot-wide gravel shoulders.

The bike lane would be an eight-feet wide paved surface with two-foot shoulders.

The first phase of the project, along Geneva Road from McKay Avenue to Birch Avenue, was constructed in 2010.

The portion of Geneva Road northeast of the Lake Geneva channel is currently in Alexandria Township so in order to get federal and state funds for the project, the city will have to annex a portion of the road’s right-of-way into the city.

City staff met with Alexandria Township leaders and they are agreeable to the annexation, said City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven.

At Monday’s meeting, the council agreed to pay Widseth Smith and Nolting (WSN) an estimated $171,316 for the engineering work on the project.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $988,893. The bike lane portion amounts to about $425,000.

State funds will pick up 80 percent of the total cost and federal funds would cover the remaining 20 percent. The funding was obtained through a grant application written in 2010.

Council member Virgil Batesole said he was concerned about using state aid money to pay for a bike path when the city had more pressing street needs.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven pointed out that Geneva Road is "falling apart" and needed the upgrade. He said the city was able to leverage federal dollars by including the bike lane.  

In related action, the council approved a $56,940 engineering agreement with WSN for the phase four, part three watermain extension project in the same area, the newly annexed portions in Alexandria Township. The amount was based on a total project cost of about $360,165.

Watermain will be installed along Highway 29 from  Birch Avenue to Geneva Road, along Geneva Road from about 1,700 feet northeast of Birch Avenue to the Lake Geneva channel, and in Bass Point Road, from Geneva Road to the east end.

The engineering work will begin soon and construction will be completed next year.


On a 3-2 vote, the council decided to move forward with “phase two” of a study that will estimate the size, cost and design of adding up to two more ice arenas at the Runestone Community Center.

The council tabled the decision at its July 28 meeting, saying it needed more time to analyze the data of phase one of the study, which recommended adding two more rinks to accommodate the demand for more ice time.

At Monday's meeting, council member Todd Jensen said that he couldn't justify spending $8,000 for a study to do something the city couldn't afford to do. Virgil Batesole agreed. He said the real issue is finding out how to pay for an expansion. "We know it's all going to boil down to where the money is coming from," Batesole said. 

Council member Roger Thalman, who made the motion to proceed with the study, said the council owed it to the public -- city residents and those living outside the community -- to find out details they want to know, such as floor plans, cost, and conceptual drawings. He said that when the RCC hosts hockey tournaments, Alexandria and nearby towns "fill up" with people and the study will shed more light on the economic impact of adding more rinks. He added that the city may not decide to do anything for one to six years but the study would still be valuable.

Jensen disagreed, saying the council owes the public to be financially responsible with taxpayers' dollars and not spend $8,000 that the city could use for other needs.

Council members Owen Miller and Dave Benson joined Thalman in voting for the study.


Two police offers were officially hired Monday night –- Jonathan Dahlheimer and Erin Guenther.

The Police Civil Service Commission recommended the action.

Dahlheimer, originally from Monticello, worked for the police department in Brookings, South Dakota for four years. He and his wife have one child with another on the way.

Guenther, who has lived in Alexandria since 1995, graduated from a four-year law enforcement program at St. Cloud State University. She and her husband are invested in the community, she said, with children attending District 206. She added she feels blessed to be working at the police department.

Dahlheimer will receive a base salary of $4,146 a month and Guenther will receive $3,978.

Police Chief Rick Wyffels also requested the city to accept the low bids on two 2015 Ford police utility vehicles. The bid from Nelson Ford of Fergus Falls came in at $27,062. Juettner Motors of Alexandria will service the vehicles.

The purchase of three vehicles was in the police department’s 2014 budget, but Wyffels said the department can operate efficiently with just two more this year. He added that using sports utility vehicles is working better than he imagined.

“I have to say from my experience of 30 years in the law enforcement business that the Ford utility is the best police vehicle for our needs ever,” Wyffels told the council.

The chief said the all-wheel-drive vehicles handle the extreme changes in road conditions well.

The two police vehicles that will be replaced will be sold at a car auction or to a police driving range in St. Cloud. 

In another police department matter, the council approved Wyffels’ request to sell the city’s green building near Third Avenue West, which the police department uses to house forfeited vehicles and large evidence items, to the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum. A ground lease agreement with the museum was also approved.

The museum, Wyffels said, has agreed to purchase the building for $48,000, no land included, to help its “big picture objective” of expanding the museum and beautifying Third Avenue.

Wyffels said the existing green building, which is about 2,900 square feet, is in tough shape. It needs a roof and two large garage doors. The museum, Wyffels said, understands this and will be redoing the entire building anyway.

Wyffels obtained a bid of $59,198 from Swensrud Construction of Alexandria to build a replacement building that would be housed on city property near the street and park department buildings. At just under 2,000 square feet, it will be smaller than the green building but would include a fenced-in secure area. The bid, minus the $48,000 from the museum, leaves an expense of $11,200 for the city.

Jensen called the agreement a "win, win" for the museum and the city.  

The money will come out of the capital improvement fund.

The project is expected to be completed this fall.

The council acted on one other police-related item. It updated the job descriptions of the police department contract positions for officers, sergeants and related assignments.


The council is requesting the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to conduct a speed study of Pioneer Road near the new Alexandria Area High School, between 50th Avenue and County Road 36 (also known as 34th Avenue).

The speed limit is currently not posted. It was 55 miles per hour when it was a county road, before it was taken over as a city street last year as part of an exchange with the county.

The study will be conducted as soon as possible after the new school opens this fall.

In a related action, the council voted to post “no parking” signs on 50th Avenue from the railroad tracks to Pioneer Road, and on Pioneer Road from 50th Avenue to County Road 46.

Two other highway committee recommendations were approved:

--The restricted parking signs near Jefferson High School will be removed (other than fire lane and corner restrictions).

--Restricted parking signs of no more than three hours will be placed on Hawthorne Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue.


The council is considering a request from two Alexandria shoppers to create a pedestrian friendly walkway that runs along the side of the Coldwell Banker building and across the parking lot to the opposite sidewalk.

In a letter to the city, the shoppers, who live in Marshall, said a walkway would eliminate the unnecessary, dangerous gravel that people have to walk over in the parking lot. “We find the shopping fabulous, but negotiating the gravel is not!” the shoppers wrote. City Admininstrator Marty Schultz said the walkway idea may not work because it would be in a private area.

The shoppers also requested the city to place a sign in the back parking lot to let the public know that the area is for public parking. Schultz noted that signs have since been placed in the lot.

The council voted to refer the requests to staff for a recommendation.


Should the public be allowed to use archery equipment to harvest rough fish from lakes in the city limits?

The council is considering the idea. It referred the request from Durk Stark to its legislative committee for further study.

Current ordinances don’t allow the use of any weapons within the city limits, including bows equipped with anything other than a blunt target arrow.

Stark, a certified instructor for the National Archery in the Schools program, is working with the school district in developing bowfishing activities for students. He said using bows and arrows to harvest rough fish would provide the students with fun, generate some extra income for them and get them outside.

Stark suggested establishing rules that follow the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ hunting regulations that would prohibit trespassing and leaving dead fish in the lake. Those younger than 16 would be required to have a license and be accompanied by a parent or guardian.


The council approved plans for the Douglas County Relay for Life UV Color Dash on Saturday, October 4, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Sponsored by the Douglas County Hospital, the event promotes health and happiness, said Christina Cook, organizer. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.

Runners will be doused from head to toe in a non-toxic water solution that will illuminate their attire in a neon-like mix of bright colors.

About 250 are expected to attend the first-ever race, which will take place at Big Ole Central Park and on the Central Lakes Trail.


The council agreed to purchase a used snow plow truck for the Alexandria Airport at a cost of $80,600.

The state will pay 80 percent of it, leaving the city’s expense at $16,120. The truck, a 1996 Oshkosh "Bat Wing," will replace an early 1980s plow that’s been used since 1986. The Bat Wing has only one previous owner, the city of Brainerd, which used it at its airport.

A new plow would have cost $470,000, according to Airport Manager Todd Roth. The airport would rather use the money on capital improvement projects, Roth said.

The Airport Commission plans to sell the old plow at an auction for between $10,000 and $13,000. The state would receive two-thirds of the money.


The council gave preliminary approval to changing city code that would allow community festival organizers to obtain a temporary, off-premise liquor license for $100.

Applicants would have to provide details on the location, time of sale, insurance, security, sanitation, safety and other conditions.

The new ordinance would clarify the process that’s been requested and provided by applicants in the past, said Schultz.


The council approved amendments to its financial management policy regarding fund balances.

The changes match those recommended by the state auditor’s office as best management practices.

It calls for the city to maintain an unrestricted fund balance of 35 to 50 percent of fund operating revenues or no less than five months of operating expenditures.


The council approved a request from the Minnesota Northern Wolves (previously Blizzard Northwest) to hold baseball tryouts and camps at the Knute Nelson Ballpark on August 16 and August 23, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will pay a field rent of $50 per hour or $1,600 total to the city.


Carlson Music Center’s plans for a Customer Appreciation Day on August 27 was approved.

The council agreed to close half of the Ninth Avenue block by the store to accommodate the event, which will run from 5 to 9 p.m. Mayor Sara Carlson, a co-owner of Carlson Music, recused herself from leading the discussion.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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