Wetland driveway may go to court?

Some, but not all, of Scandia residents may be receiving an upgrade in their internet service next year.

The Scandia Council last week agreed to partner with Midco in pursuing a grant to expand the company’s internet service offerings in the city.

Midco’s proposal was selected from among three companies that responded to a recent request for proposals issued by the city’s Economic Development Authority. The company proposed a joint application for a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) matching grant for up to $5 million, which would allow the cable company to expand and improve cable service in some areas and possibly provide fixed wireless solutions to others. 

“It is a less-than-perfect solution,” Councilman Steve Kronmiller said. “But I really think Midco is the best game we have in town right now.”

Kronmiller, who has been leading the efforts to expand internet capabilities, said the city will work with Midco to create an inventory of assets, infrastructure and stakeholders that will assist the company’s grant application.

“We don’t know yet what the final answer will look like,” Kronmiller said. “Midco has a good reputation and track record in the community. … (The project) falls short of what we had hoped, but it’s a start.”

Kronmiller said the grant application would need to be submitted by mid-September. If awarded, construction could begin as early as February 2020.

Last year, the city spent $9,350 on a fiber-to-the-premises feasibility study conducted by Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC). That study determined that it would cost roughly $13.3 million to install high speed fiber optic internet service to every home in the city.

Assuming receipt of a grant, the city’s portion of that cost would have been $5.7 million, or around $2,500 per home—an initial number many deemed to be infeasible.

“Everybody choked on that number a little bit,” Kronmiller said. 

CTC responded to the city’s request for proposals with the same proposal, more or less, yet declined to discuss a smaller project.

“I am disappointed we weren’t able to hear more from CTC,” Kronmiller said.

Frontier Communications also responded to the request for proposals. They asked for $330,000 in city funds for their project.

By federal government standards, Scandia is considered “unserved,” falling below the 25 megabits per second (Mbps) minimum download speed threshold.

A survey conducted by the city’s internet focus group last year determined that at least three-quarters of city residents consider their internet service to be “poor” or “fair” in terms of cost, reliability, speed and service.

Wetland driveway

Following a lengthy legal explanation from City Attorney Eric Sherburne, the council took no further action on a request from Joe and Katie Reinhardt to reconsider a condition placed on their wetland driveway variance. 

“There is no formal process for the city to reconsider a request that was granted,” Sherburne told the council last week. 

The issue first came before the council last year, sometime after the Reinhardts constructed a secondary driveway across a wetland, in violation of the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act. The city retroactively granted a variance for the driveway, provided that the Reinhardts merge the five Bliss neighborhood parcels they own into a single parcel. The Reinhardts cannot receive a permit for the driveway from the city until that condition is met. 

But the Reinhardts have disagreed with doing so, concerned that merging the lots would harm their future property value. 

Sherburne’s advice to the council was to stand pat and let the matter be reviewed in court, if the Reinhardts are inclined to continue pursuing the issue.

“I think that is the most appropriate remedy for them,” Sherburne said. “The most direct option is a judicial review.”

Other business:

• The council denied a request from Public Works Director Adam Hawkinson for a salary increase. Citing the city’s recent classification and compensation study, which showed that most city employees are underpaid relative to their peers in neighboring communities, Hawkinson asked for an additional $6,250 annually, a 20 percent increase. The council deferred that decision until the to-be-hired city administrator can review the study and make a recommendation.

• The council appointed a Community Center Improvements Task Force to consider and recommend enhancements to the city facility. The task force appointees included Mayor Christine Maefsky, Councilwoman Patti Ray, City Treasurer Colleen Firkus, Hawkinson, and city residents Bruce Swenson, Lynne Moratzka, Pam Plowman-Smith, Susan Rodsjo and Julie Gacek.

 The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held June 18 at 7 p.m.

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