Waukon City Council hears flooding concerns from citizens in regard to Third Street NE and sewer systems

by Bob Beach

The Waukon City Council was confronted by concerned and frustrated citizens during its regular meeting Monday, July 7. Several of those citizens were residents whose homes are on or near Third Street Northeast, which was recently newly paved. Former Waukon mayor Keith Schoeder, a resident of that area, called the project a "disaster" because the sidewalk is now far below the level of the street, which has resulted in storm water running into people's yards, garages and homes. "I've never seen anything so bad," Schroeder said, calling the situation "a lawsuit waiting to happen."
Councilmen Trent Mitchell, Don Steffens and Steve Wiedner all agreed with Schroeder's assessment of the situation, though there was some disagreement as to who is responsible. Mitchell said that it may be time to start looking for a new city engineer, while Steffens said that the contractor should foot the bill because "they're the ones who screwed up." Wiedner suggested that a meeting should be arranged with City Engineer Lyle TeKippe of TeKippe Engineering to discuss how to correct the situation. "We won't let this stand," Wiedner said.
During department reports, Water and Sewer Superintendent Bob Campbell reported that heavy rains have again caused the sanitary sewer to back up into people's homes and businesses. He said that a flow study and smoke testing should be done to determine problem areas, and he was directed to get cost estimates for both of those measures. Campbell also said that manholes could be lined to reduce groundwater infiltration into the sanitary sewer at a cost of $5,000 per manhole, adding that with over 180 manholes in the city, the cost would be more than half a million dollars. "It all can be fixed," Campbell said. "All it takes is money."
Campbell added that his department's recent inspections of homes and businesses for sump pump drainage did not get very good response, suggesting that other communities have leveled "pretty significant fines" for property owners who are not in compliance with sump pump drainage requirements set forth by the City. Campbell estimated that if 400 homes or businesses in town discharge sump pumps into the sanitary sewer in an eight-hour day, he calculated that those sump pumps contribute a minimum of 400,000 gallons of water flowing through the sanitary sewer system, more than half of the water treatment plant's normal daily flow, adding to the load already experienced during periods of heavy rain.
Jeremy Troendle, Managing Editor of The Standard Newspaper, told the Council that he hoped that the flooding incidents of the past two summers would call for a shift in priorities when it comes to City expenditures, citing a much wider rumbling throughout the community confirmed further by others in attendance. City residents and property owners Pat Bresnahan and Christine Enyart further pointed out that in addition to recent investment in a new fire station, the library expansion project and the purchase and closure of the Town and Country Trailer Court are among projects being questioned when there seems to be no funding for sewer system repairs and/or maintenance.
Mayor Loren Beneke responded that while basements flooding is "uncomfortable," it is not a "life-or-death situation." He said that the new fire station represents an investment in the safety of the citizens of Waukon, which must be the Council's top priority. He also said that some of those other larger projects are fueled by other funding sources as well, and added that the weather over the past two years has been very unusual.
During its regular business, the Council held a public hearing regarding the rezoning request for Innovative Ag Service to accommodate expansion of its facility on the south edge of town. Mayor Beneke read a written objection to the rezoning submitted by Janet McMillan of Waukon, who wrote that she has safety concerns about Innovative Ag relocating its anhydrous ammonia facility, citing the long hours employees work filling tanks as a safety concern with handling the product so close to town.
City Zoning Administrator Al Lyon told the Council that there are state level safety protocols that Innovative Ag must follow and Police Chief Phil Young said that there have never been any serious problems with anhydrous facilities at either Agvantage FS or Innovative Ag.
After closing the public hearing, the Council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance to change the zoning as requested by Innovative Ag.
In other zoning matters, the Council approved the second reading, waived the third reading and passed an ordinance to change the zoning district classification for property owned by the Charles Bulman estate. The Council also waived its right to review subdivision plats for Mark Lomen, LeRoy McCabe and Dan and Nicole Willis/Dan Denk.
Mayor Beneke also updated the Council on the installation of an electronic message board downtown, saying that making power available for the sign has proved to be more problematic than expected. He said that the current plan is to use power from street lights to power the unit. Street Superintendent Randy Murphy said that he has been trying to contact property owners, without much success, to facilitate the installation of a meter for the sign.
In other business, the Council reviewed a request from Richard Christianson to reduce his water bill, which was ten times higher than normal due to a leak. In accordance with the current policy, the Council agreed to reduce the bill by 25%, $232.82, but will review that policy during its next meeting.