Not often does a decision by the North Branch City Council elicit a round of applause and cheers, but that was the case Monday night.
The vote that had the crowd clapping: a unanimous decision to ban asphalt plants, both permanent and temporary, within city limits.
The Planning Commission and the council had been researching the feasibility of having an asphalt plant located somewhere in North Branch — no proposal was ever considered — for months and had enacted a one-year moratorium on asphalt plants June 24 to further look into the issue.
At its Oct. 15 meeting, the Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance amendment that the council ultimately accepted to ban asphalt plants, but at that level, it failed on a 2-3 vote.
The Planning Commission serves as an advisory body to the council and does not make final decisions on city actions.
At the beginning of the council meeting, Mayor Ron Lindquist said he wasn’t interested in having a permanent asphalt plant located anywhere in town, but he didn’t want to close the door on the possibility of temporary asphalt plants.
But after an explanation by City Attorney Jay Squires regarding the state’s power to possibly construct temporary asphalt plants along state-owned thoroughfares, Lindquist said his idea about temporary plants was a moot point. Lindquist noted he didn’t want to impede state construction projects and finding out that the state could override city ordinances to produce asphalt in the area on a temporary basis was a factor for him voting in favor of a total ban.
As was the case at other meetings when asphalt plants were discussed, the council took comment from the public, but Lindquist said he would only take comments from “people who hadn’t spoken on the issue before.”
Squires told Lindquist he was within his right to only solicit comment from new visitors, because the Monday discussion was not listed as a public hearing on the agenda.
Kristin Dennis, with her young grandson in her arms, was one of seven residents to step up to the podium and address the council.
“We want clean air; we want clean water,” she said. “We’re tired of talking about this issue.”
Public comment moved
Until the Monday meeting, the public comment period at North Branch City Council meetings was at the beginning of the meeting, before the council would start addressing items on the consent agenda.
Lindquist told the council he’d like to have the public comment period moved to the end of the agenda, before the unfinished business section, so the council tried it at the meeting. Lindquist said he’d like the new comment time to be in effect for four to six months, and then the council will have a discussion about if it wants to keep public comment at the end of the meeting or move it back to the beginning.
Joe Scaramell was the only resident to speak about the new comment time.
He called it a “cowardice act” by the council and noted he thought this was the council’s way of bypassing the voice of the public before it votes on city matters.
Lindquist told him that if residents are forced to sit through most of a meeting before making comments, they might get a “lesson in civics.”
“I think if you sit here through the whole meeting, you learn,” Lindquist said.
Stephanie Johnson, a resident of the Lucht’s Crossing development in North Branch, again came before the council to voice her concern about a rubble pile that was left in the neighborhood when the Green Acres County Care Center was demolished about two years ago.
She has talked about the matter at multiple council meetings.
Under an agreement reached by a previous council, the company removing the refuse has until 2016 to complete the project.
That timetable hasn’t been agreeable to Johnson and other residents of the development, so she’s been prompting the council to take action.
Councilmember Trent Jensen suggested the council get a quote about how much it would cost for city to haul the remains of the building to a landfill.
Also during the meeting, the council unanimously voted to have a website development company called Revize remodel the city website.
The startup cost for the remodel is $11,800, and there will be a yearly cost of about $7,000 for the city to hire a part-time employee to maintain the site.