The Marine City Council devoted significant time at its July 8 meeting to civic participation after resident Scott Spisak expressed concerns about late agendas, incomplete council packets and when residents are allowed to speak.
Mayor Kevin Nyenhuis asked residents to be in dialogue with council members about their concerns prior to raising issues at a council meeting. If they want to speak at a Council meeting, they should ask the town clerk to add their name and the issue they wish to discuss to the agenda no later than early Tuesday morning the week of the meeting.
City staff request that materials for council consideration be turned in one week prior to the meeting. Council member Charlie Anderson said the packets should be complete by end-of-day Tuesday for the Thursday meeting.
Citizen concerns are heard at the beginning of each meeting. While citizens can make comment throughout meetings (if on Zoom, using the raised hand feature), it is the mayor’s role to ensure meetings stay on track. Nyenhuis asked Council members and citizen committees to be succinct in their reporting so meetings end by 9 pm.
Committees and roles
Kristina Smitten shared concerns, as a citizen volunteer who serves on the planning commission, about the functions and duties of committees.
“Anything land-use related, the planning commission has a role in advising the City Council on these matters,” she said. “At the last meeting, a resolution was brought late in the game but the first item related to planning.”
Smitten said she understands the benefit of tapping into community expertise but would like the planning commission chair to be consulted when the Council defines the roles and responsibilities of committees.
She was also concerned that committee members may think they have authority that they don’t have. She asked the council to clearly define roles and responsibilities of committees and explain how they bring things forward for consideration.
“We create committees, they do good work, but sometimes it evolves,” She said.
She pointed to the communications infrastructure subcommittee as an example. It was established by the council with the goal of assisting the planning commission and city council with the telecommunications ordinance. “There is no liaison,” she said. “We haven’t been invited to
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meetings. We would love assistance, but it wasn’t defined as their role.”
“I appreciate the work of the committee,” Smitten said, “but if the planning commission was supposed to be involved and if the committee has four tasks, the City Council should be holding them accountable for doing the work they were supposed to do.”
She said if the work of a committee needed to expand, the council should specifically give them the authority to expand it.
Council member Pardun said mission creep has long been one of his concerns and cited a situation with the former Village Center Task Force where he said the committee appeared to think it had authority to approve work.
“We stopped that but unfortunately not before a contractor thought they had the work,” he said. He said it’s up to the Council to hold committees accountable.
Resident and former Village Center Task Force member Nancy Cosgriff said she had a different recollection. She reminded the council that the task force included two council members and two planning commission members and served an advisory function.
“Past failures are not a reason not to try again,” said the mayor. “We look for lessons learned to craft a way forward for citizens to be involved at whatever level.”
Cell tower meeting and
communications infrastructure subcommittee
Attendance at the cell tower ordinance hearing was high but highlighted some misconceptions community members had about the work of the communications infrastructure subcommittee.
Council member Anderson, a member of the subcommittee, said the subcommittee reviewed a few specific sites because those sites had been identified by telecom companies in the past. Powder Ridge, a subsidiary company that works with AT&T, contacted the city about 3 years ago after investigating cell signal propagation suitability at the city compost site. Ten years prior to that, MIDCO had looked into cell signal propagation at the public works site.
Anderson reiterated that the subcommittee did not solicit proposals, send out an RFP, contract for a cell tower or determine, identify, or limit sites. They conducted research and provided information to the planning commission and the council.
Anderson acknowledged that “a little animosity” had developed between the subcommittee and the planning commission. After turning over their research, they expected to get feedback from the commission, but they didn’t, and they had no connection with the contractor. He believes the planning commission should have reached out to the subcommittee.
“Like any committee there have been points of good work and best intentions, and unintended messages,” Anderson said. “I do think that the continued feedback of committee members to the planning commission is important and they were heard at the public hearing.”
The subcommittee believes the current ordinance language puts too many limits on location to the detriment of cell signal propagation.
“We are a topographically unique community with a majority of our population on a slope, which means something,” Anderson said.
Emergency management mapping clearly shows the locations of signal drop-off in the network.
“The work that the planning commission has done has been laudable and 90 percent of ordinance language is amazing,” Anderson said. “However, the restriction language either imposes work on the planning commission to change the language or leaves it to the Council to do so.”
Trails, Open Space and Natural Resource Committee Approved
Council member Wendy Ward moved to form a new citizen committee to engage in long-range planning, education, and outreach regarding Marine’s parks, trails and natural resources.
“We have an amazing asset here,” she said. “I want to see what we can we do to utilize this natural asset. Let’s put some horsepower into this.”
Anderson seconded her motion with a friendly amendment that the committee have a designated liaison with the planning commission. The council briefly discussed qualifications to be on the committee but noted that other committees only require that members be residents.
Pardun said he feared that once the committee put forward what they want to do, if the council doesn’t agree with it that volunteers will feel like they got “smashed.”
“I want to be clear that putting in volunteer time, while important, is not the main reason why the city would approve or move forward on budgets or plans,” he said. “I’ve had people say ‘We put in all this work. How can you say no?’ That’s not the reason I said no. It had to do with what it would cost the city or staff time.”
Pardun is also concerned that the new committee may propose amending the city’s 2040 Comp Plan.
“This city spent a year and a half putting together a Comp Plan,” he said. “When we did the comp plan it was many citizens who participated.”
He didn’t want to see a few people change what many people had contributed to making.
He also said there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Trails, river access points, parks and green spaces are already GPS mapped. He warned against publishing a map of river access points within neighborhoods which could result in excessive parking in residential areas.
“We don’t want the town to become a tourist trap,” he said. “In the comp plan, we don’t have tourism as a number one driver for our town. Saturday or Sunday in the summertime, you can’t fit another person in this town. We have wonderful infrastructure but summertime isn’t when we need help with business. It’s in winter.”
The mayor was in favor of the motion. He noted that the comp plan, while a good document, engaged only 12 percent of the citizenry.
“We have a lot of new citizens in town and I don’t think anything this committee will bring forward will wipe out that document,” he said. “But the vision for 2040 and beyond, let’s start that now.”
He encouraged the new committee to look at year-round activities. He also suggested the committee help the Council understand the new watershed plans.
Resident John Goodfellow said it’s great that natural resources have been inventoried but what is lacking is a deliberate and active management strategy that makes sense to the community.
Watershed 10 Year Plan
Mike Isensee, director of the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District, presented the high points of the Watershed’s proposed 10-year management plan, which will be released on the Watershed website on August 14 for a 60-day period of public comment. The full presentation can be found on the city website in the Council meeting packet.
Due to the Watershed’s recent work, four lakes are expected to be removed from the impaired lakes list in 2023: East Boot lake, South Twin lake, Hay lake, Jellum’s lake. Goose lake is expected to be delisted in 2025. Big Carnelian lake will be a top priority due to declining clarity and excess phosphorus driving algae growth. Big Marine is facing similar issues.
The Watershed plans to prioritize water quality improvements for spring-fed streams feeding into the St. Croix, which includes the Marine Landing stream and the Mill stream. The Mill stream was last evaluated in 2013 and received a C grade. The watershed believes it could get an A grade by the end of the decade with work.
Lower priority items that may not get accomplished in this work cycle included groundwater monitoring, increased cost sharing for shoreline restoration, inspecting buffers, and improving floodplain resiliency.
The Watershed intends to provide new services that include shoreland rules education, technical assistance and enforcement, revising district rules, and providing grants to communities to synchronize local and watershed rules to eliminate conflicts.
Proposed new restaurant seeks wine license
Marine resident, Anna Hagstrom, told the Council she would like to start a restaurant in the building recently vacated by Highway North. She was seeking a combination on- and off-sale wine and beer license.
Ms. Hagstrom is a lawyer with experience and training in alcohol service, food safety and food service. She worked as a culinary assistant at Cooks of Crocus Hill, in a restaurant and catering setting with the Sioux Chef Indigenous Food Lab, and has completed coursework in food, wine and wildcrafting (foraging, natural preservation, and preparation of ingredients for use in restaurant settings).
When approving a license, the Council looks for an applicant to have five years of restaurant experience. Ms. Hagstrom had three years of food experience, but Council members noted that they could approve it at their discretion and were satisfied with her experience.
The building owners have entered into a memorandum of understanding for a multi-year lease, contingent upon city approval of a wine license.
There is only one license available and another business had recently applied, but that applicant had been unresponsive to requests from the city for additional information. Hagstrom needs to complete a background check before a license can be approved so this matter will come before the council again.
Lawsuit Hearing July 9
The mayor thanked attorney Paul Reuvers of the League of Minnesota Cities, as well as city attorney Dave Snyder and city clerk, Lynette Peterson, for their work in helping the city prepare for a court case in response to a complaint by Pine Cone Trail resident John P. Norusis regarding the short-term rental ordinance the Council approved in 2020.
The council did not discuss the case but said that the hearing is public and papers filed with the court are a matter of public record. (An order denying a motion for temporary injunction can be found on the MOSC website.)
The city received its new drain field permit from the MPCA. It is now looking at a capital plan. A letter will soon go to residents for a public meeting. City public works staff spend 50 percent of their time maintaining the wastewater system, which has already outlasted its expected lifespan.
“It is one of the most important things to our town, and one of the hardest challenges in future, especially monetarily and infrastructure wise,” Anderson said. “It’s a big deal. It’s a living breathing system that lets us have a village next to a river.”
GreenStep Committee: A City-Committee workshop is scheduled for July 19, 6 pm, in person at the town hall. It will also be broadcast via Zoom.
Name the Street Sweeper: The naming contest for the street sweeper ended in a dead heat with Broomba and Fritz the Mondale each receiving the same number of votes. Residents are invited to stop by the town hall to cast a tie-breaking vote by July 14 (no online voting).
Budget Meetings: The first budget meeting discussion takes place in August. Requests should be submitted to the city clerk.
Roads: The Brookside posted a sign and put kickstand pads in a container for motorcyclists to use when parking in the partially-paved parking lot. Usage is spotty and divets have already formed in the surface, affirming the Council’s decision not to fully pave the lot until late fall. Pardun said he and city staff will create additional signs. He invited people to talk with bikers about using pads. A resident asked why the city hadn’t installed concrete strips. Pardun said it was prohibitively expensive.
Library: Library hours continue to expand. The library recently had to move the free book bookshelf in the lobby. The mayor asked if the library actually needed that much space and whether a wheeled cart would work. Jim Maher, library chair, said the shelf is well used, especially when the library isn’t open.
Public Safety: Parking problems were noted during the 4th of July parade. Dorothy Deetz, holiday committee member, asked the council to discuss whether Marine needs to continue with fireworks.
“What is the impact on local businesses?” she said.
Deetz would like a public conversation. Ward will gather information.
Resident Larry Martin asked why there have been so many alarms coming from city buildings recently. The City Clerk explained that the alarm system is connected to the phone lines so when the building has a problem with its phone/internet service, it sets off the alarm.
School Bond: The city closed on the new school bond, at a reduced rate.
Holidays: The council approved a request for $600 for the Marine Mills Day Soiree on Sept 21. The event will not have a lumberjack theme.