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Mallard Citizens Concerned Over County’s Gravel Pile

By Staff | Apr 10, 2008

A fixture that has become somewhat of a tradition in Mallard became the topic of conversation when a delegation from Mallard visited the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning. Allen Marcellus, who owns a building adjacent to property owned by the Palo Alto County Secondary Roads Department, served as spokesman for the group along with Paul Forry, former owner of the property.

The discussion was the result of an incident of criminal mischief in late March, when some juveniles broke out several windows in the former Forry’s Forge building, just east of the county’s gravel storage pile. Some $2,800 in damage was done to the building itself, and property inside the building was also damaged in the incident.

However, the topic of discussion wasn’t about the damage, but rather the environment, or more specifically, the county’s pile of gravel.

“I’m just very afraid that the county is liable for what could happen on the gravel pile back there,” Allen Marcellus, owner of the building, told the board. “There are motorcyles, four wheelers and snowmobiles always climbing on the pile, and kids playing on it all the time.”

Paul Forry, who owned the same building for 25 years before selling it to Marcellus, agreed.

“It’s become kind of a tradition for kids to play on it,” Forry said. “Their grandparents did, their parents did and everyone thinks its OK, but the county has great liability there.”

“I’d have to agree with that,” admitted Supervisor Keith Wirtz, who resides in Mallard. “There are always kids playing around there.”

“We’re not as concerned about the four wheelers being on the pile, but if a little kid would be playing at the bottom and one of the cliffs sloughs off, it’s going to be a bad situation.”

Forry pointed out that there was a general lack of signage, fencing and lack of control around the pile, which lies to the northeast of the Secondary Road shop. “I know Arvin Sidles was always coming down to replace a fuel cap, radiator cap or crankcase cap, or drain the oil of a machine if it was parked next to the pile, because they’d always find the equipment with no caps, and the caps would be on top of the gravel pile.”

Forry continued, “the cost of replacing an engine in a piece of equipment would more than pay for fencing off that gravel pile.”

Forry proposed fencing off the northern portion of the county property, from the north side of the shop, putting in a pair of gates so that access to the gravel pile and parked equipment, such as V-plows, could be limited.

“We had the same kind of problem in Graettinger with motorcycles and four wheelers on our gravel pile up there,” explained Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “I had the neighbors call me if people were out there, and I caught some folks once and told them we would prosecute and fine them if they were caught out there again, and we haven’t had a problem since.”

“I’m really worried that a little kid is going to get killed there,” Marcellus said. “I’d ask you what is better – a sign or a fence with a sign on it?”

County Engineer Joel Fantz thanked the group for coming before the board to express their concerns, and empathized with them as a parent. “I certainly understand and appreciate you coming in. We have seven sheds in the county and five gravel pits, so this is certainly a large issue. We most certainly can sign things against trespassing, and we can have our people make sure they leave non-vertical faces on these piles at the end of the work day, but fences would be tremendously expensive and we just can’t fence off the whole world.”

“Well, I know all the playground equipment in Mallard would not be as attractive as a sand pile,” Forry commented.

“The other answer would be to remove the pile altogether,” Fantz offered. “But then we become less efficient and can’t respond as quickly when we would need gravel if we have to haul it in from Emmetsburg.”

“Being as Ron had success with posting signs up at Graettinger, I’d like to try that,” Wirtz said. “Maybe we could also have the city put a note in the water bills, too.”

“If that doesn’t work, could we move the pile to another location?” asked Supervisor Ed Noonan. “And maybe we can have the sheriff’s office watch that a little more closely.”

“I was upset about the windows being broken out,” Marcellus admitted, “but I’m more concerned some kid is going to get killed there.”

“But if no one stops them and doesn’t prosecute them, they’ll keep on going there,” Graettinger said. “We have to fine them and then it will stop.”

“I agree,” Noonan spoke up. “If someone gets fined, that will end this problem.”

“The parents need to take some responsibility for their kids,” Graettinger said. “If they’re aware of signs saying No Trespassing, they need to tell their kids not to go there. You can’t fence off the whole world.”

“It sounds to me like this is just a tradition that’s gone on for years, and it needs to stop,” observed Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

County Attorney Peter Hart, who also sat in on the discussion, offered a suggestion of using snow fencing for a temporary solution, along with posting No Trespassing Signs around the property that would state maximum penalties, including a $500 fine and up to one year in jail. Then, when the gravel pile was gone, signage could remain but the fencing could be removed and used elsewhere.

With everyone in agreement with Hart’s idea, the discussion concluded.