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Discussions Continue On FIT Trail Route

By Staff | Dec 22, 2009

Discussions focused in on the southern end of the proposed Five Island Recreational Trail during an informal meeting held Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the Palo Alto County Extension Office meeting room. The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, along with representatives of the Five Island Trail Committee and project engineer Jim Thiesse, as well as opponents to the proposed route, exchanged ideas and information during the nearly two-hour session.

“We got this meeting together for informational purposes,” Supervisor Chair Ed Noonan said to open the discussion. “The project engineer is here to answer questions, you can ask as many as you want, but let’s try not to bring up anything from the past, no personal attacks or anything like that, I don’t want to hear about it. We’re going forward from here on.”

“This is the problem that we see as the Board of Supervisors,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said, nothing is completed. We don’t really have any plans, we’ve got an idea, but we don’t have permission from anybody to go anywhere.

“That’s really where we are in the process,” Thiesse answered. “We’re in the conceptual stage. We don’t have a contractor hired either; we’re just not ready for that – we’re just trying to pull it together as we go here and trying to identify a phase. Funding is going to control how this project gets built. That large of a chunk of money for a recreational trail isn’t available to us, so they’re going to bite off smaller pieces and complete them.

Thiesse continued, “But you have the right idea. It doesn’t make sense to go out in the middle and build a piece if you can’t get there from either end, I think that’s kind of what your concern is, that we get more of handle on all of the sections before we start any of the sections.

The section of the trail proposed to run through property owned by Tim and Dawn Siemers was discussed, with Thiesse noting that as is being currently discussed, the trail would be six feet wide through the property, if it were agreeable with Tim Siemers.

Gary Frink asked where the six-foot width had come from, as in a discussion he had with Siemers, the width of four feet had been suggested by Siemers.

According to Thiesse, the goal is for a trail to be wide enough for two people to walk abreast. Handicap accessibility calls for a trail wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass or travel side-by-side. “You have to pick a width and try to support it.

A discussion began on the possibility of placing a culvert in the vicinity of the dam to allow passage from a trail on the east side of N48. Thiesse acknowleged that such a move was a possibility, but more study would have to be done, such as depth and elevation, and whether the culvert would be affected by the lake water levels.

“We’d love something like that as a feature of the trail,” noted FIT Committee member Tammy Naig If we could make something work with something like this, it wouldn’t be a negative to the trail.”

“What is the more important factor – a functional bicycle trail or getting to the dam?” asked Steve Mathis. “That’s really what this issue comes down to – are you on the lake or off the lake. If you build this trail somewhere else, we wouldn’t be here. You’d be building it.”

Supervisor Leo Goeders noted that he had visited with Tim Siemers and shown him a drawing with a six-foot trail, and that Siemers was “really surprised, and actually, I think, he thought he could agree to six feet and then he said, ‘could we make it five feet?’, so he was thinking about it anyway, but he had to talk to his wife.”

“I thought the way he was talking, I thought, ‘boy, this is great’ so that’s the way we left it,” Goeders added.

“We talked with Tim afterwards and he said, ‘no, no, I didn’t give them anything’ but I know he did,” Steve Mathis said. “He said, ‘don’t worry, I wouldn’t sell out or give anything until I talk to the rest of our group’ and then he takes off and goes to Arizona. Tim wants to be such a nice guy, but he’s hard to pin down.”

“Tim told me exactly the same thing Leo said,” noted Corey Gramowski, a member of the Emmetsburg City Council, who sat in on the session. “If they would agree to six feet or a very, very minimum of five feet, would that get the project going?”

Thiesse noted it would probably be called a trail and be a sidewalk, but it would be a short section, and said, “If that’s your choice to move forward, then I would say to move forward.”

Questions were raised about the retaining wall across from Gappa’s and the need for the FIT committee to obtain permits from the state. A difference of opinion remains over what permits would be needed, since conflicting information appears to be coming from the state.

“We will apply for the necessary permits when we have our plan,” Scott Wirtz said.

“Well, we have sort of a plan here,” Steve Mathis observed.

“We have sort of a bunch of plans and we’re trying to come up with A plan,” Ed Noonan said.

“Let’s work from the dam south to the railroad tracks,” Jerry Hofstad said.

Noonan shifted gears. “Steve, don’t you agree if the Frink property is able to be bought, that’s a big thing on this trail, as far as moving to the east side of the road.”

“Well yeah, because we had heard they didn’t want to go to the east side,” Mathis responded.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where everybody’s happy, I just don’t think that’s possible.” Tammy Naig said. “If everybody really wants this trail and wants it to work and they don’t want it to stop then they have to work together to make it happen.”

“Maybe we should have the Public Properties Committee get together with Siemers and basically hash it out,” Gramowski said. “Technically, it is in the city so therefore we should be handling the right-of-way within the city.”

“Anything you can get signed from any landowner out there giving permission to build a trail or an option to buy property would really help,” Noonan agreed.

Noonan then asked Thiesse to investigate the feasibility for installing a culvert underpass near the dam, and Thiesse agreed to do so, as well as developing a full concept for a trial on the east side of the road for the entire distance as well as the western side of the road.

The groups agreed to continue their efforts and meet again after the holidays.