‘No’ votes for Bath Road, I-90 exchange

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 6, 1999

County commissioners voted against participation in the proposed Bath Road interchange Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 06, 1999

County commissioners voted against participation in the proposed Bath Road interchange Tuesday.

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In two separate votes, Freeborn County commissioners opted not to cooperate in the venture proposed by the Albert Lea City Council and staff.

But, commissioners were quick to state that doesn’t mean they are against economic development.

&uot;I’m sure some people will construe that this is a vote against economic development,&uot; said Board Chairman Brian Jordahl. &uot;That can’t be further from the truth.&uot;

He said the board has made an effort to be involved with economic growth for at least three years. As examples, he pointed to the Exol ethanol plant and plans for a possible industrial park in the area, as well as participation in discussions on the Interstate 35 corridor.

But, he said building an interchange with a cost of $5 million to $6 million doesn’t make sense.

&uot;The limited funds available to this community for economic development need to be used wisely,&uot; he said.

Construction for the proposed interchange is estimated at $3 million, but associated construction on Richway Drive is projected to cost approximately $2.3 million, according to Freeborn County Highway Engineer Sue Miller.

While he sees Plaza Street as a future site for industrial growth, he said an added interchange isn’t needed. He said adding signals to Bridge Avenue, where Plaza Street connects, makes more sense.

&uot;Then you would achieve access to Plaza Street for roughly $300,000 to $350,000,&uot; he said, noting trucks and commuters would then have quick access to the area and the interstate.

Commissioner Dave Mullenbach said he opposed the project because his constituents, all Albert Lea residents, would pay the major share of local construction costs under the two separate agreements proposed.

Jordahl echoed earlier statements of rural Albert Lea resident Steve Overgaard when he said, &uot;I don’t believe anyone in this room will live long enough to get the bang for the buck.&uot;

Overgaard, an Albert Lea businessman, said he objected to the proposed interchange because it wouldn’t benefit the taxpayers paying for it.

&uot;I see no tangible benefits to the residents of Albert Lea or Freeborn County,&uot; he said.

Without any current industry on Plaza Street, he said it seems foolish to spend millions to provide access to the area.

&uot;This seems like a pretty expensive case of putting the cart before the horse,&uot; he said.

Noting that the access could attract new industry, he said there are already places for new plants to locate. As an example, he pointed to a 18,000 square-foot facility he owns that has sat empty for nearly a year.

&uot;We’ve had no significant interest to date,&uot; he said.

Instead of building infrastructure for possible new industry, Overgaard said he’d like to see the city and county spend money to address needs of current businesses.

But, Commissioner Dan Belshan said he didn’t think the county should stand in the city’s way.

&uot;I don’t want to stop them from doing anything for future growth,&uot; he said.

As a result, he proposed the county approve an agreement that calls for the city to shoulder the local cost of the interchange and the construction on Richway Drive.

&uot;I would rather vacate that road, give it to the city and let them take that road,&uot; he said.

That proposal, a version of the city’s earlier proposal, failed with only Belshan and Commissioner Bob Berthelsen supporting it.

The early city proposal failed, with all five commissioners voting against it.

In other county business, the board:

* Heard a report from Department of Natural Resources personnel on plans to request boundary changes for Myre-Big Island State Park.

The boundary changes come after five neighboring landowners have expressed interest in including their land within the boundaries.

While the change won’t cause the landowners to lose any rights to their land, it will make it possible for the state park to purchase the land if it is ever put up for sale. State parks can only purchase land within boundaries approved by the state Legislature.

* Held a public hearing on construction for a portion of County Ditch 75. No county residents commented during the hearing on the proposed $69,000 project.

* Approved continued participation in the county’s snowmobile trail enforcement project.

* Changed the date of the board’s regular Nov. 2 meeting to Nov. 4.

* Approved repairs to county ditches 8 and 62.