After receiving several complaints about the chain link fencing that went up recently along both sides of Highway 97, the Scandia City Council went looking for answers.

The answer: It’s for the turtles.

According to a council memo, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials installed the fencing as part of an Office of Environmental Stewardship wildlife study. The fencing is design to prevent turtle fatalities by redirecting them and other small animals away from or to culverts underneath the roadway.

MnDOT chose the area along Highway 97, west of Scandia Elementary School, because of a high number of turtle fatalities observed, with approximately 60 painted and snapping turtles killed in 2018. It was one of 15 sites chosen for the study.

MnDOT officials said they notified nearby residents about the project back in February, but did not complete construction until recently. The city office was likewise notified, but that communication was likely lost during the recent city administrator transition.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Mayor Christine Maefsky expressed some skepticism of the turtle fatality data and noted that the unaesthetic fencing was the main reason for most of the complaints.

The fencing also appears to contradict the Scandia Architectural Design Guidelines, which state that “chain link fences are not appropriate for a rural or historic feel.”

“But it’s not necessarily permanent,” Maefsky said.

MnDOT officials wrote that they chose standard chain link right-of-way fencing for the project, but buried the fencing 10-12 inches below ground to help prevent animals from burrowing underneath. The fencing was also chosen due to replacement costs and visibility concerns because the ditch area is also a designated snowmobile route.

MnDOT released a video last week describing the study at youtube.com/watch?v=nFHIZiAJ6Ts.

Internet committee

After a handful of terse exchanges recently regarding the council’s proposed Internet Action Committee, council members Patti Ray and Steve Kronmiller have agreed to a set of common goals for the committee.

According to a council memo, in the next six months the committee will seek to create a five-year plan to provide reliable broadband service to every Scandia home, while minimizing taxpayer investment. The proposal also includes a list of ideal committee members and 16 tasks the committee will take on.

Ray and Kronmiller each brought their own somewhat conflicting proposals for the committee to the council recently; the mayor and other council members, though, asked the two to resolve their differences and formulate a single proposal.

The city will now seek to fill the committee with five citizen members.

The city has been exploring ways to expand broadband service for the better part of two years and recently agreed to move forward with a proposal from Midco to obtain a Department of Employment and Economic Development grant that could improve service to more than 200 homes.

A second proposal from Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) to install access to fiber optic service to every home in the city was also considered, but ultimately was deemed to be too expensive.

Other business:

• The council approved to a plan to hire Tom Helke, of Helke’s Tree Service, to install holiday lighting on the Scandia Community Center and skating rink warming house for up to $2,000. The Scandia Marine Lions Club had expressed interest in purchasing and donating the new lighting, Maefsky said.

• The council agreed to schedule a public hearing on a proposal to increase the Scandia Fire & Rescue’s retirement benefits to $3,500 per year of service. The proposal would not mean any new financial contributions from city coffers, as the statewide investment fund, managed by Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota, currently has assets to cover the increase.   

• The council agreed to review bid specifications for a road construction project on sections of Lofton Avenue and Mayberry Trail in 2020. The city will budget $587,000 for the project and plans to let bids for the work in December. 

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.

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