by Dennis Dalman
A motion to hire an independent counsel to determine if anything inappropriate occurred during the selection process for a community center was defeated 3-2 at the Sept. 14 Sartell City Council meeting.
Council member David Peterson proposed the motion, saying he is concerned that $650,000 could be at stake.
He said he thinks a potential community-center site rejected by the council should be reconsidered, especially in light of an email memo from Joe Lahr, owner of Joe’s Excavating Inc. in Sartell. The site in question is the so-called Villcheck property, which was purchased by the city last year. It’s adjacent to the north of Pinecone Central Park and was acquired with the thought of expanding recreational park space someday. In previous years, Lahr’s company has done extensive grading work as a community service, gratis, in Central Park to prepare for the current multiple playing fields.
When it made its Aug. 10 decision, the Sartell City Council chose the south-side site (Ferche South) for a community center and rejected several others, one of which was the Villcheck property. A big issue with the Villcheck property is it would require a lot of fill brought in from somewhere else, according to Strack Cos. Inc. of Sartell.
However, in an Aug. 21, 2015 email, Lahr stated a parking-and-building area of 250,000-square feet could be developed using onsite material as fill.
“A large part of this previously farmed field was too dry and sandy to produce a good crop,” Lahr wrote. “I see no significant need for import of materials on this site.”
At the Aug. 10 meeting, the night the council voted for the southern site, city-hired consultants spoke more than just about the need for fill at the Villcheck site. Water and sewer would have to be extended from quite a ways from the west, and a road would have to be extended. Challenges include lack of public visibility, an industrial site nearby and traffic-access concerns. A center would fit on the site, however, they concluded.
“Why is there such a difference of opinion about this (Villcheck) site?” Peterson asked his fellow council members. “I want to get to the bottom of this. It’s a huge swing in numbers (the $657,000 because of dirt-fill issues).”
Other council members took issue with Peterson’s viewpoint. The $657,000, they said, is attributable to more than just the need for dirt fill at the Villcheck site. Sartell City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said there are other expensive issues associated with that site, according to consultants, including the need for utilities, grading, compaction, testing of soils, and issues about need for a road and ingress and egress at the property.
Degiovanni said the consultants hired by the city are “outside sources” of the kind Peterson was requesting. Hennes made the same point, telling Peterson the consultants gave the council the facts and the majority of the council made up their minds based on those facts.
“This is starting to get ridiculous,” Lynch said, adding consultants are being criticized because of a three-paragraph emailed memo from Joe Lahr, which is not, in Lynch’s opinion, scientific.
Braig-Lindstrom seconded Peterson’s motion to hire an independent counselor.
The motion failed 3-2.