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Alexandria considers new stormwater ordinance

Reduce flood damage.

Control run-off and erosion.

Protect lakes from development.

Improve water quality.

Enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Those are the key goals of a sweeping new stormwater management ordinance the Alexandria City Council considered at its meeting Monday night.

Right now, the city only has a limited section within its ordinances that address drainage. The new stormwater ordinance - which has been in the works for a year and a half - is 15 pages long and would create a whole new chapter in the city code.

Those who violate the new code would face misdemeanor penalties.

The proposed changes come with some controversy - concern if the timing is right to impose additional rules and expense on potential developers in light of the struggling economy.

During a public hearing, two residents, Orrin Johnson and Virgil Batesole, urged the council to hold off enacting the ordinance.

"We're not under a state mandate to do this," said Johnson. "We don't have to be on the cutting edge of this."

Batesole, who served on the city's stormwater management committee for eight years, said he's generally in favor of the ordinance but the timing isn't right.

"Who in Alexandria is asking for this to be in [the code]?" Batesole said. "Who in the world wants this?"

Batesole had concerns about several parts of the ordinance, including permeability requirements for drainage ponds, 10-foot buffers or setbacks from wetlands, and requiring drainage systems to handle rainfall based on the peak amount in the past 100 years.

Batesole said that Alexandria is already losing potential business start-ups to Melrose and Sauk Centre because the costs, he said, are too high here.

Batesole said a recent study showed that Douglas County has gained just 21 employees in the past five years.

"There's an old saying," Batesole said. "When you're down in a hole, quit digging."

David Squire, the third and final person to speak at the hearing and a current member of the stormwater committee, presented an entirely different view.

He said Alexandria should be on the cutting edge of controlling its stormwater. He said the community should take a progressive approach in protecting its lakes.

"Someone said what are the reasons for this, I can give you 298 of them," Squire said, referring to the number of lakes in the county.

Squire said the committee and city staff have been studying and planning the ordinance for more than a year and further delays aren't necessary. He added that Alexandria should act in its own best interest without waiting to be told what to do by the state or federal government.

After the hearing was closed, council member Owen Miller made a motion to table the ordinance so the council could review the terms and definitions of the ordinance at a future work session.

The motion passed on a 3-1 vote, with Sara Carlson and Dave Benson voting in favor of it. Elroy Frank voted against the motion and Cindy Bigger abstained.

Highlights of the ordinance, as it is written now, include:

No one is allowed to deposit grass clippings, leaves or other vegetative materials (with the exception of normal moving or weed control) within natural or manmade watercourses, wetlands or wetland buffer areas.

Along those same lines, no one is allowed to throw any type of garbage in a street, alley, sidewalk, storm drain, inlet, catch basin, place of business or any private or public plot of land in Alexandria if the item might become a pollutant.

Anyone applying for a permit that disturbs more than a half-acre of land must submit a stormwater management plan to the city. All plans must be consistent with National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit requirements, the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District or other regulatory bodies.

Drawing or maps must be submitted for small and large site construction projects. Many other details must be spelled out, including the property boundaries, how water will drain, areas with steep slopes, the location of erosion/sediment devices, bluff areas, agricultural land preservation areas and more.

The city will conduct inspections of stormwater management areas on a regular basis to make sure the plan is being maintained. The city has the authority to issue construction stop orders if the landowner isn't complying.

If a project is causing erosion off site, the applicant must immediately develop a clean-up and restoration plan, obtain right-of-way entry from the adjoining property owner and start the clean-up within 48 hours of getting permission.

If any eroded soil enters streets, wetlands or other water bodies, the cleanup and repair must be immediate. The applicant must provide traffic control and flagging to alert drivers of the clean-up work.

Residential, non-residential or other structures must be elevated on fill so that the basement, or first floor if there is no basement, is one foot above the regulatory flood protection elevation. For areas outside of a floodplain, the lowest floor of a structure must be three feet above the highest known water level.

A plan review by the city is required for any project that is within the 100-year floodplain or upland flood storage area.

Stormwater treatment must be designed to remove 90 percent of total suspended solids on an average annual basis. This requirement is expected to result in removing 40 to 60 percent of the total phosphorous.

For all development that changes land use or requires platting, a minimum 10-foot buffer of native vegetation is required around wetlands.

Pool owners should allow the water to sit seven days after treatment before discharging to allow chlorine to evaporate.

All motor vehicle parking lots should be swept at least twice a year to remove debris, which must be collected and disposed of properly.

Fuel, chemical residues and other potentially harmful materials such as animal waste, garbage or batteries, that are in areas susceptible to runoff must be removed as soon as possible and properly disposed.

This is only a sample of some of the items in the new code. A complete copy is available at Alexandria City Hall.

In other action, the council:

--Approved a resolution that urges the state Legislature to reject Governor Tim Pawlenty's supplemental budget cuts in local government aid (LGA) for 2010.

To help fill a $1.2 billion budget deficit, the governor is proposing to cut aid to cities and counties by $250 million.

Alexandria stands to lose $536,018 under the plan, which is on top of already unallotted aid reductions of $226,358 in 2008, $206,691 in 2009 and $476,915 in 2010.

If Pawlenty's cuts are approved, Alexandria would lose $1,012,933 in LGA in 2010 or 60 percent from the original LGA amount that was certified in the 2010-2011 state budget.

The resolution noted that statewide, LGA represents only 2.9 percent of the state's 2010-2011 budget but has accounted for 16 percent of the governor's unallotments.

"The LGA program is critical to restraining property taxes and providing for essential city services such as police, fire, snow plowing, airports, parks, sewer and water infrastructure and other services that make our community a vital and desirable place to live and work," the resolution stated.

The resolution calls for the Legislature to present a "bipartisan budget acceptable to the governor for passage."

It will be forwarded to Governor Pawlenty, Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellars, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, Senate Minority Leader David Senjem and to local legislators - Representatives Torrey Westrom and Mary Ellen Otremba and Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen.

--Approved a final revised plat for Arabella Manor. Although the city had approved the final plat in September 2007, the developer never recorded it and has since revised the plat to create three conveyable parcels rather than two.

The city determined that the revision didn't substantially change the planning commission's review process.

--Approved a taxi service rate increase proposed by Richard Iverson Taxi.

The rate for a minimum ride will increase from $3 to $5. The additional charge of $1.50 per mile will not change. (Senior citizens receive a 10 percent discount.)

In his written request to the city, Iverson said that he is barely breaking even with his current rate. He explained that he picks up many of his customers at bars and makes 50 percent of his income from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Since Iverson was at the meeting to request the rate change, Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels used the opportunity to present him with an award.

Iverson was honored for finding 19-year-old Ariel Koenig, who got lost while walking away from the Douglas County Hospital on a bitterly cold night on January 28.

The police department, along with the Alexandria Fire Department, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota State Patrol, conducted an extensive search that lasted about four hours.

Iverson found Koenig at about 11:30 p.m. at the intersection of 8th Avenue and Hawthorne Street. Wyffels called Iverson's actions "heroic" and presented him with a plaque of appreciation.

Koenig joined Iverson at the front of the room when the plaque was presented, along with her sister and guardian, Tammy Wassather, Wassather's son, Mathew Wissler, and Wassather's husband, Tom.

--Scheduled a public hearing to discuss the planned improvements to Elm Street, between 11th and 12th Avenue.

The project, estimated to cost $97,760, includes paving, new eight-inch watermains, curb and gutter, and sidewalk improvements.

The hearing will take place March 22 in the city council chambers of city hall at 7:15 p.m.

--Received a summary of Assistant City Attorney Tom Jacobson's experience at the Minnesota City Attorneys annual conference in Bloomington.

One of the sessions Jacobson attended, which focused on amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prompted council action. Karin Tank, the city's human resources assistant, was appointed to address ADA issues for the city, a requirement for cities with more than 15 employees.

--Heard from Tom Chorley with KXRA Radio, who spoke during the public comment part of the meeting.

Chorley informed the council that Charter Communication's public access channel 6, which airs city council meetings and school-related events, was without sound for two weeks.

Chorley said he was able to get through to someone at Charter to finally fix the problem but the delay was frustrating. Because of this and other problems, Chorley questioned whether the city should renew its franchise agreement with Charter.

At least two other council members agreed with Chorley and thanked him for his comments. Mayor Dan Ness suggested drafting a letter to the company.

--Scheduled a work session to review and discuss the proposed new police station. It will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 8 prior to the regularly scheduled council meeting.

--Was informed that the city council will meet as the board of equalization to consider property values appeals on Wednesday, April 28 at 10 a.m.

--Received an update about the construction of the new park department building, located next to the city's street garage.

The project is nearly complete. The only two items remaining are the installation of lockers in the restrooms and the final lift of the paved area between the new building and the street garage.

--Approved a request from Zion Lutheran Church to shut down three city blocks to accommodate its annual Easter Passion Drama.

The affected area includes the 300 block of Lake Street, the 600 block of 4th Avenue East and the 300 block of Maple Street.

The event will take place March 28 from 1 to 6 p.m. and also on March 30 from 4 to 9 p.m.

--Approved the following charitable gambling permits - Ladies of the Lakes Ducks Unlimited to sell raffles for an April 9 event at the Broadway Ballroom; St. Mary's Catholic Church to sell raffles and conduct bingo for an event on September 18-19 at the church; Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County to sell raffles for a May 29 event at Big Ole Central Park.

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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