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Park Rapids Council gives OK to build 'Rust Bridge'

The 180-foot-long rust-colored arch bridge will span the Fish Hook River in Heartland Park. The project is estimated to take two months and will entail moving the old Red Bridge and a railroad trestle bridge. (DNR drawing)

The Park Rapids City Council narrowly approved a new "Rust Bridge" to span the Fish Hook River in Heartland Park.

The 3-2 vote Tuesday evening will allow the DNR to move forward with plans for the 180-foot, maintenance-free arch steel truss bridge that will cost $425,745.90. The DNR is picking up the tab.

The DNR will submit its design to the Army Corps of Engineers for final permit approval to cross the waters, enter into a "boiler-plate" Joint Powers Agreement with Park Rapids, then put the project out for bids.

The bridge will be made of a steel substance called "cor-ten," which is widely used in bridge construction, said DNR Parks & Trails representative Tony Walzer.

"It's steel that oxidizes to a rust brown color," he said. "It has been used extensively for the last 20 years."

The steel lead-in handrails will be manufactured of the same substance, Walzer added.

"Will the rust rub off on people's hands?" council member David W. Konshok asked. No, was the answer.

Konshok and fellow council member Sue Tomte were the "no" votes after urging the board to look into the future and consider a span with higher clearance. They favored a plan that would have built a bridge with a 10-foot clearance, not the 7.5-foot clearance in the current plan.

"I don't want to repeat the Highway 34 mistake, " Konshok said of the clearance under the highway, which boaters have complained isn't navigable.

"It might be worth increasing the span so we don't have regrets later. I do think that's an option worth considering."

But as an additional option, the raised height of the span would entail a $45,000 cost to be borne by the city.

"That's a rather large amount," said outgoing Mayor Nancy Carroll. "Where would we get $45,000?"

Konshok said he's seen many pontoons hesitate when reaching the current Red Bridge.

"That 7.5 feet does affect river navigation," he said, wondering aloud if it's an optical illusion.

"I hate to see us choking off those two bays" east of the Red Bridge, Konshok said. "This is a permanent decision."

City Planner Dan Walker said the water fluctuation level under the bridge is only .4 foot between its lowest winter point to summer. Tomte said with drought conditions in the area, it could take a long while to replenish the river, which is controlled by the dam further east.

The council unanimously agreed not to paint the new "Rust Bridge" red. Walzer recommended against it, said the $60,000 investment wouldn't be worth it, and the paint would need constant upkeep.

The council also discussed where to move both the trestle bridge and the existing Red Bridge, which the DNR has agreed to do as part of the project.

City Planner Dan Walker said the public is being solicited for ideas about the two structures.

Konshok said if the structures are hanging from a large crane, there might be limits as to how far away from their current moorings each can move.

"I think we're looking at keeping it in fairly close proximity," he said of the Red Bridge. Only a portion of the trestle bridge may be salvaged.

But Konshok warned the salvaged Red Bridge might "look like an extracted wisdom tooth" once it's plucked off its abutments.

The board then took the divided vote to move the project forward. Construction could start as early as spring, or July at the latest. The project is slated to take two months. The city would prefer that it doesn't occur around the annual July 4th celebration in the park.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Council members reauthorized spending $2,000 in the war against Aquatic Invasive Species after hearing AIS task force member Ken Grob make an impassioned plea for the funds.

Interim city administrator John McKinney said he researched how best to dispense the funds.

"We don't have the authority to make a donation but we could contract with someone for a public purpose," he advised.

"I'm wondering if $2,000 will help," Utke said skeptically, suggesting the city lobby state lawmakers to get funding.

"It's such a massive undertaking $2,000 is like throwing a pebble in a lake," Utke said.

But Carroll said the funds could buy the city one more summer until state funding might become available.

Last summer a Hubbard County consortium hired numerous watercraft inspectors to patrol vulnerable public access points throughout the lakes region.

"Two-thousand dollars leverages another $2,000 from a lake association," Grob said. "It is important."

But he expressed frustration that state funding to the DNR is being spent solely "for the containment of infested lakes" like Minnetonka and Gull Lake and not for overall prevention.

Grob said Hubbard County and Park Rapids, until a statewide solution or Legacy funding is available, "should do their best to shield it" from uninfested lakes.

That $2,000 "gives you a lot more protection than you're giving credit for," he advised the council.

"You have skin in the game," he warned. "If the Fish Hook River gets zebra mussels" it could contaminate a vast watershed."

Doing nothing is not an option, he cautioned.

"Two-thousand dollars gives us more leverage to go to the state," Konshok said. "It lets them know, 'This is how seriously we take it. We see it as critical.'"

If nothing else, Konshok said, "We take that $2,000 and beat the state over the head with it."

Other business

n The council authorized developer Alan J. Zemek to re-apply for a "creative place making" grant to the National Endowment for the Arts.

An initial proposal, although turned down, was given encouragement.

"They were looking for broader community impact, something beyond community theater," Zemek said.

He said by broadening arts groups' participation, he hoped the second proposal would pass muster. The council gave its endorsement.

"Persistence is something they're looking for," Zemek said. "I appreciate the council's endorsement so we can take another run at it."

Park Rapids created an Arts and Culture Commission in 2011 to pursue the "Our Town" NEA grant. The initial proposal primarily involved the Northern Light Opera Company. The new proposal will include the Nemeth Art Center, the Opera, the Park Rapids Community Development Corporation, Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council and other stakeholders.

n Authorized extending a $25,000 interest-free loan to the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission to cover invoices from a grant that has not been disbursed yet.

n Declined to waive a rental property owner $178.73 in late fees from a tenant's overdue water bill. The landlord had signed a waiver agreeing to be responsible for the bill if the tenant reneged.

"It's setting a bad precedent," Carroll said. "It puts us in a tough spot."

"Staff would get bombarded" with similar requests, Utke agreed.

n Took under advisement a request by Scott Wilson of Park Theatre to install bollards behind his Main Avenue establishment.

Wilson said alley parking is so tight in six spots vehicles are damaging his building exiting parking spots.

"They keep hitting my building until they get out," Wilson reported. "They either park each other in or push my door in enough to get out."

The estimated cost, if the city chooses that option, would be $1,980, Wilson figured.

n Granted an extension until June 1 for mandatory city water/sewer hookups on recent projects. Fourteen properties, including the hospital, numerous businesses and some residences, did not meet the Nov. 1 deadline. Letters went out, said McKinney, who urged the city taking action.

"These facilities were constructed on the basis of the utility fees being paid," McKinney said. "At the very least you would start charging the fees."

He urged a "consistent application of policies. If we don't we have a terrible burden," he said.

Carroll questioned if entities could be forced to install the hookups after the ground had frozen, especially when contractors cannot get to the work. The hospital and other businesses, said they could get the work done in the spring after the ground thawed.

"It's a little cloudy once you make exceptions to ordinances," McKinney said.

The council agreed on a new deadline, June 1, 2013.

Sarah Smith

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

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