Creative Economy Collaborative

City looks at Highway 61 kiosks, Community Connection, and costs

Highway 61 was the primary topic on the Grand Marais City Council agenda on February 24, starting with discussion of amenities alongside the road.

The council heard from members of the Creative Economy Collaborative about some of the amenities planned for the sides of Highway 61, such as information kiosks and a “Community Connection” area near North House Folk School and the Grand Marais Municipal Campground.

Kiosk Committee members Mary Somnis and Richard Olson attended the meeting to describe the three kiosks that will be installed in the city when the Highway 61 reconstruction project is complete. The kiosks will be at the “Community Connection” near North House, on the harbor at Wisconsin Street and 3rd Avenue West, and at the Grand Marais Public Library.

The locations were discussed and Councilor Kelly Swearingen asked if they should be spaced farther apart. Somnis said the locations were picked as known high traffic areas for pedestrians and were part of the original Highway 61 planning. It would be difficult to change that now, Somnis said, adding that it would add to the cost of the project. However, if funding is available in the future, the CEC would like to add another kiosk on the east end of the city.

The city talked about the walk-through design of the kiosks, the materials to be used, and the information on the kiosks. Each kiosk will have four panels and the city council agreed with the CEC committee that the information should be “evergreen,” which means historical content that won’t become outdated. Each kiosk’s information will pertain to its location, for example, the one near the harbor will share information about the harbor itself.

The Kiosk Committee representatives asked if the council wanted to be involved in the planning process, or if they wanted periodic updates. The council asked for updates as the CEC thought it necessary.

The CEC representatives on the Kiosk Committee are Richard Olson, Greg Wright, Mary Somnis, Katie Clark, Linda Jurek, Betsy Bowen, Gerry Grant, Mary Somnis, and Paul Nordlund.

The CEC also reminded the council of the plan for the Morrison Arbor, a feature of the Community Connection inspired by the late George Morrison. See the related WTIP story with photos here: “Community Connection” to feature George Morrison-inspired arbor
However, the city has a decision to make regarding the Community Connection. The design means that some city and private water lines are under the area to be terraced and the Morrison Arbor. There was a discussion on whether or not these lines should be moved during the current highway construction project or left to possibly create major problems if a repair was needed later, once the art structure was in place. Because the Community Connection area is out of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s construction corridor, the additional cost would fall on the city.

Councilor Anton Moody said he agrees it makes sense to move the waterlines during road construction, but expressed frustration that the council wasn’t aware of this added expense sooner. Councilor Craig Schulte agreed that it wouldn’t make sense to move the structures later, but also expressed his displeasure that the city didn’t know about this until now when it seems urgent. He asked what it was going to cost the city.

Landscape Architect CJ Fernandez and Brad Scott of LHB Engineers were at the meeting to talk about the plans. Fernandez, who has been working with the CEC on the Highway 61 amenities for several years, said the estimated cost of the Community Connection is $200,000 to $240,000. But that is for the Morrison Arbor and other work, not for realigning the water lines. Fernandez and Scott submitted a proposal for research to give an estimate for moving the lines.

Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux reminded his colleagues that the money for the Community Connection is in the city’s Park budget. He said the Community Connection is part of the Recreation Park Master Plan and suggested that the additional funding could come from the park budget.

Ed Welch, the MnDOT Grand Marais Highway 61 Project Manager, was also at the meeting and the council asked him when MnDOT needed to know what the city wanted to do. Welch said there was some time as the work in the Community Connection area was not slated to begin until August or September. However, he said if this is to be added to the MnDOT contractor’s work, the plans needed to be ready as soon as possible.

Councilor Moody made a motion asking Fernandez and Scott to bring a cost estimate back to the council. Councilor Schulte seconded, but both again expressed frustration at not knowing this sooner. The cost for that design estimate is $13,273.

Council reaffirms snowmobile route on upper side of highway
Lenny Bloomquist of the Grand Marais Street Department was on hand to answer questions about snow removal. Before talking to Bloomquist, the council again questioned when the decision had been made to move snowmobile traffic to the lower side of the highway.

Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux said the idea of using the Gitchi Gami State Trail, the bike trail, as a pedestrian walkway came from the Active Living/Safe Routes to School steering committee many years ago.

Swearingen said she thought this had been settled at the last council meeting. She said she believes the snowmobile trail should be on the upper side, where it has been for about 15 years. She noted that snow conditions only allow for use of the snowmobile trail for about four months. She said there is a sidewalk on the lower side of the highway, with intersection bump-outs, for pedestrians now. She suggested that could be used by pedestrians in winter months and acknowledged that it may not make everyone happy, but asked, “Can’t we have some give and take?”

The mayor asked Bloomquist if it would be possible, as has been suggested by some citizens, to plow part of the bike trail and leave part snow-covered to facilitate both uses on the upper side of the highway. Bloomquist said he would not recommend that, as it would not be level and could be hazardous. Bloomquist said he thinks the safest plan would be to have pedestrians use the south side of the highway.

The council reaffirmed that the snowmobile trail will remain on the upper side of Highway 61. They asked Bloomquist to ensure that the sidewalk and bump-outs on the south side of the highway are cleared for pedestrians.

Updating the city administrator’s job description
A copy of the position description for the city administrator was included in the council packet for review. The council had agreed that the city administer should have an evaluation, but because the job description on file is from 2005, it was also agreed that should be updated first.

Councilor Swearingen said the city council passed a motion back in 2018 for all employees to have an evaluation. That was done, except for the city administrator. Swearingen noted that this is not a reflection of current city administrator Mike Roth. She said the position description and evaluation process needs to be more general in nature, to be used for anyone in the job in the future.

There was discussion of whether this should be handled by the personnel committee, which consists of Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux and Swearingen, or if it should be handled by a human resources firm.

City Attorney Chris Hood spoke up, saying that there are people in his office with experience in human resources that could do this work. Hood said the city could ultimately do something different, but he could ask his office to put together a proposal. The council asked Hood to bring something back to the next meeting for the council to consider.

In other business
* The city council approved the hiring of a new firefighter, Patty Wilson, for the Grand Marais Fire Department. This brings the fire department roster to 13, far short of the 29 members it is allowed. Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer firefighter is encouraged to contact city hall for more information.

* The council gave its final approval of payment of approximately $140,000 in change orders on the Highway 61 construction during 2020. The changes were due primarily to a change in materials in the Broadway intersection and the removal of rock near My Sister’s Place restaurant.

Councilor Swearingen asked if the city can negotiate to reduce the city’s share of the change order. Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux said that had been done and the city had protested MnDOT’s system for forced change orders with little success.

* Councilor Moody asked if the city had responded to the Go Dog North Shore request to establish a dog park on the Sawtooth Bluff property, as was recommended in the Sawtooth Bluff Master Plan. City Administrator Mike Roth said he is meeting with County Administrator James Joerke this week to begin the discussion on this.

The next meeting of the Grand Marais City Council will be Wednesday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux after the council meeting. Here’s their conversation.