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Highway work raising ire of residents

Numerous crews are working up and down the stretch of highway between Dorset Corner and Akeley. This crew was outside Nevis extracting shoulder material for re-use. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Tempers flared Thursday at the weekly construction meeting on the Highway 34 project with complaints about the inconvenience of the project stalled by a three-week state shutdown.

"We're down 75 percent" in box office revenues, Fred Rogers said of the Minnesota Folklore Theater on Akeley's main thoroughfare.

"I want to know who to come to for money" to offset losses, Rogers angrily told DOT personnel and the general contractor. "I need suggestions or solutions or we'll have to fold."

"We don't have the means or the funds to reimburse individual businesses," DOT project supervisor Larry Randall said.

Rogers said he'd read that Twin Cities area small businesses were receiving grants to defray construction losses.

DOT personnel from Bemidji said they did not have such outside help, but offered to see if the Region 2 Arts Council could recommend a source for help.

An angry resident complained that he didn't know when or how long his driveway would be blocked and was wondering why he wasn't informed ahead of time.

"We do everything we can short of knocking on everyone's door which isn't going to happen," Randall said.

With all the activity going on to finish the project by Labor Day, milling, reclaiming and blading, "inspectors don't have time to go door to door," Central Specialties, Inc., superintendent Allan Minnerath said. "There aren't enough inspectors to even watch us."

"Don't give me this crap," Arnold Leshovsky shot back. He said he'd been a construction foreman 25 years and good public relations were necessary on jobs such as this.

The work has resumed at a frantic pace since the shutdown, with workers trying to make up for lost time.

Both Minnerath and Randall said they hold weekly public meetings to inform the public of the project's status but it isn't realistic to consult personally with each resident and business inconvenienced by the work.

Leshovsky said residents' access to the highway have been shut off for hours, mailboxes are being damaged and mail service has been suspended due to the construction.

"My guys have got a lot of work out there, a lot of testing, Randall said. "We can't monitor every driveway."

Minnerath said the first overlay of asphalt has been poured from the Dorset Corner to Akeley, but two more lifts must be applied.

Motorists immediately began driving around the barricades into the construction zone, he said, causing dangerous work conditions and slowing the work.

"Take the detour," he reminded drivers.

Nevis Mayor Paul Schroeder announced that "I'm a ray of sunshine" at the contentious meeting.

Next weekend's Nevis Triathlon will be rerouted off of County 18 onto the Heartland Trail, he said. The event attracts 350 athletes and thousands of visitors.

But Schroeder said there will be a half hour on the morning of Aug. 13 when bikes will be crossing the highway on the trail.

Traffic control has been arranged for that 90-degree corner, he added.

Minnerath said he would inform his truck drivers to be extra careful during the race.

Leshovsky was not mollified. Chief inspector Tim Lundorff indicated he's had frequent contacts with Leshovsky on the project.

"Your perception of me is that I sit in my truck and don't do anything," Lundorff fumed. "I'm not just out there doing nothing. Being a project manager yourself you should know that."

Neither Rogers nor Leshovsky left the meeting happy.

"You gotta be sensitive to the public a little bit," Leshovsky chided Minnerath and the DOT personnel.

The project supervisors said they are doing the best they can at the breakneck pace they are working.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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