Council authorizes Congressional stimulus support letters, July 4 Bandshell events cancelled

Published 1:27 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fireworks still possible

In a late addition to its Monday evening meeting agenda, the Austin City Council gave its unanimous approval to authorize Mayor Tom Stiehm to send letters to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Sen. Tina Smith (DFL-MN) and Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN1) in support of a possible COVID-19 federal stimulus package.

Should the stimulus package come to fruition, it would provide funding for shovel-ready infrastructure jobs that could quickly put people back to work.

In the letters, the City of Austin makes the case that investing in clean water projects “is a critical part of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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“In Minnesota, there are $1.7 billion in wastewater projects that are shovel-ready, pandemic safe, essential service projects that will boost our local and regional economies by providing jobs and keeping construction trades, manufacturers, engineering firms and all their associated sub-contractors employed and thriving during this pandemic and its recovery,” the letter states. 

City officials are hoping to get funding for the Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion and phosphorous reduction project, which carries an estimated $78 million price tag. The benefits of the project, as expressed in the letters, are

  • Reduce phosphorus discharge in the Cedar River by 80 percent;
  • Improve treatment reliability with a more efficient treatment process;
  • Support community growth by expanding facility from 8.475 million gallons per day to 10.4 million gallons per day; and
  • Position the city for future regulations and give it flexibility to tackle nitrate in the future.

“We feel this project fits well with getting folks back to work,” said City Engineer Steven Lang. “It’s a very large project; it would help out our community if we were eligible and received federal dollars.”

Because of the COVID-19 situation, the council reached a general consensus that Fourth of July events at Bandshell Park will not take place this year. Because of concern that social distancing will not be maintained (if necessary) for the Fourth of July fireworks display, City Clerk Ann Kasel discussed options during the council’s Monday evening work session. 

The options provided were:

  • Hold the fireworks at the current location and require people to stay in their yards;
  • Hold fireworks at an alternate location on the Fourth of July and have individuals park nearby and watch from inside their vehicles (Cook Farm was mentioned as a possible location);
  • Delay fireworks to a later date at Bandshell Park or an alternate location (Kasel said there would be no penalty from Flashing Thunder Fireworks to delay the show so long as it is within six months); and
  • Cancel the fireworks completely.

While none of the council members were in favor of keeping the fireworks at the current location, some favored holding them at an alternate location. Austin Police Chief David McKIchan voiced concerns about traffic with that option; the council expressed interest in working with McKichan to address those concerns.

No decision was officially made regarding the fireworks as the council continues to explore the options.

The council also voted in favor of placing a proposed vacant property ordinance on the next council meeting agenda during the work session. The ordinance would address regulation of vacant buildings, which tend to be a source of blight in the community, to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Nelson said that an opening date for the Austin Municipal Pool has not been decided yet due to the COVID-19 situation. Nelson noted that departments around the state are waiting on setting dates for opening public pools; one did set a date and quickly retracted it.

Nelson also discussed how the city should go about with watering downtown plants over the summer because of the city’s current hiring freeze. The mayor and council opted to seek volunteers to water the downtown plants. Should that fail, the next option would be to use city staff; hiring individuals to water the plants would be a last resort.