Plowing to get spotlight

FAIRMONT — The heavy, wet 16-inch snowfall that buried Fairmont on Jan. 22-23 has almost disappeared from the roadways, but it showcased failings in the city’s snow removal system, according to one City Council member who lobbied for public input on the matter.

City staff outlined the snow removal policy and process at the council’s Jan. 31 meeting, and the council discussed but took no action on holding a public hearing on the matter. City Administrator Mike Humpal asked the council Monday if members would want to hold a public hearing, a special meeting to gather public comments, incorporate an open discussion time in an upcoming meeting or leave things as they are.

Councilman Tom Hawkins initially favored a meeting solely focused on snow removal issues, saying the 16-inch snowfall showed “flaws” in the city’s system.

“It gives people a chance to share their feelings,” he said.

Hawkins went on to say he received “tons” of complaints about the snow removal process.

“What are ‘tons’?” asked Mayor Debbie Foster. “I was very frustrated too, but it was not for lack of effort (by street crews). I don’t think they did anything wrong.”

“You’re getting defensive, Deb,” Hawkins said. “A lot of people do so let’s hear them.”

He estimated he had five to eight voice messages and 15 to 20 emails with complaints.

“I’ve heard nothing since (the Jan. 31 meeting) — not a word,” said Councilman Bruce Peters. “Let’s decide if we should have a meeting rather than hash the whole thing over.”

Peters suggested the topic could be covered during one of the upcoming Saturday listening sessions the council is scheduling, the first on March 17, but Hawkins wanted something sooner.

On a motion by Hawkins, with a second by Councilman Ruth Cyphers, the council voted unanimously to have an open discussion with public input during its Feb. 26 meeting. Anyone wanting to view the staff snow removal presentation from the Jan. 31 council meeting can check the city’s website, www.fairmont.org

Turning to another matter, the council unanimously supported sending a draft version of the Floodplain Management Ordinance to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for review. The ordinance will allow Fairmont to participate and maintain eligibility in the National Flood Insurance Program, which works to reduce the financial burden placed on property owners whose buildings are mapped into high-risk flood areas. Once approved by the DNR, a public hearing will be called for consideration of the final ordinance.

Humpal explained that in order for anyone to buy flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and DNR program, a community must participate in the FEMA floodplain program.

“If a community doesn’t take part in the flood insurance program, that insurance is very expensive,” he said. “For those that are required to get flood insurance, it will have a positive impact. It doesn’t cost us (city) anything, and we’re not committing.”

Peters, who works in the insurance industry and strongly supported participation in the program, said all of Martin County currently participates in the flood insurance program, with the exception of the city.

“I think this is a no-brainer,” he said. “There is virtually no downside.”

In other business, the council:

o Proclaimed Feb. 17 as Kids Against Hunger Day in Fairmont.

o Held a public hearing to add nine amendments to City Code governing the community development division. The original code on the subject was adopted in 1986, and the revisions will bring the verbiage up to date with the city’s current staffing structure.

o Heard a presentation from representatives of the Fairmont Active Living Coalition on planned uses for a $7,000 grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program. The group hopes to increase awareness and usage of the bike and trail system by creating and installing signage for the trail sites and possibly developing a phone app with a map of the system. The coalition meets at 3 p.m. the fourth Thursday each month in the second floor conference room at City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.

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