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Willmar City Council approves amended street closure policy

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved an amended street closure policy that lets the council decide whether or not to close a street without fear of possible liability repercussions arising from the closure.

The amended policy was approved 6-2 Monday night with Ron Christianson, Denis Anderson, Steve Ahmann, Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie in favor and Doug Reese and Bruce DeBlieck opposed.

The revised policy would give the council discretion -- not allowed under the previous policy -- to close a thoroughfare or collector street for a city-wide function or for a private function.

The previous council-approved policy had stated only low volume residential streets, dead-end streets or cul-de-sacs would be closed. It also stated that no thoroughfares or collector streets may be closed unless the closure is for a city-wide function.

City staff recommended the amended policy after the council in August voted 4-3 to close two blocks of Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest for a St. Mary's Church event during which participants crossed Kandiyohi between the church and Miller Park. The street was barricaded to stop vehicle traffic. In 2008, the council closed Kandiyohi Avenue for a similar St. Mary's event.

Before the city had any policy, the council used its discretion to decide on six to eight street closures a year.

To reduce the number of requests coming to the council, the council adopted a policy that eliminated its discretion and established guidelines.

The Public Works/Safety Committee discussed but deadlocked last week on the amended policy and sent it to the council without recommendation.

"If we're going to go away from what the policy is, we need to be covered in one way or the other,'' said committee Chairman Reese. "If we deviate from the policy, we open the city up for some liability issues. If we set a policy, we need to stick to the policy and eliminate liability issues. Then we take subjectivity and emotion out of those decisions. We are policymakers and staff administers it.''

Christianson said the amended policy gives the council discretion if closures come up in the future. "It will be in the policy to be able to vote on it,'' he said.

Johnson said he thought the previous policy had been too restrictive.

"If we open it up a little bit, it becomes discretionary acts and that removes most of the liability that Reese is concerned about,'' he said. "We're talking about public gatherings. I think the city ought to support those. These are positive events that place in the community. We should be more liberal and the amendment to the policy addresses that and I support that.''

DeBlieck said the amended policy places street closure decisions at the whim of the council. He supported the present policy.

In other action, the council voted to refinance the undrawn $36,238,637 portion of the original $78,240,000 loan from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority for the city's $86.2 million wastewater treatment project. The council refinanced the undrawn portion of the loan to extend the terms of the loan from 20 years to 30 years.

The intent of the extension is to make the loan more affordable, according to Kathleen Aho, president of Springsted Inc., of St. Paul, the city's lending consultant.

The remaining $7,978,712 is financed with other loans, grants and city reserve funds.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150