Citizens weigh in on Chestnut Street Pros, cons aired at lengthy meeting

Citizens weigh in on Chestnut Street Pros, cons aired at lengthy meeting This is how Chestnut Street appears today. This view is from Dakota Street looking east. by David Lias No one can accuse Vermillion's city leaders of not giving citizens ample opportunity to voice their concerns about the Chestnut Street project.

A public forum to discuss that topic attracted nearly 100 citizens to the William J. Radigan Fire/EMS Station Monday night.

The meeting lasted nearly four hours. The Vermillion City Council heard from people who don't want $1.3 million spent to improve the street.

It heard from citizens who urged them to go ahead with plans that have been on hold for 14 months.

It heard suggestions from some who believe the city should seek a compromise in the design that would be less expensive and would possibly be more easily welcomed by those who object to the current plans.

Mayor Roger Kozak told the large audience at the beginning of the meeting that the city council would be taking no action Monday. The forum was designed simply to provide aldermen an opportunity to hear from the public.

"This is an educational process for the city council as much as it is for you, because all of us started our terms on the city council at different times," he said. "It's important for all of us to get on the same plane as far as having the same information to work with."

The first part of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by Doug Berkland, a partner with Sayre and Associates of Sioux Falls, the consulting engineer firm that designed the Chestnut Street improvement project.

He described the challenges that designers faced, including a bluff on the north side of the street, and a railroad track farther down the bluff to the south of the street.

The design includes two 12-foot lanes, curb and gutter, a guard rail and lighting.

The elevation of the street is raised in the design, Berkland said. A reinforced earth retaining wall also must be constructed, at an estimated cost of $900,000, he said, to allow the street to widened.

"This is going to act as one huge slab of dirt," he said. "It's all going to act as one. That whole piece of dirt will keep the road surface from wanting to slough off down toward the railroad track."

Several people voiced concerns about safety and the potential for light pollution the project would cause, even though lights designed to beam downward will be used.

Lynette Melby, who owns property along the street, told the city council members that they likely will need more than $1.3 million for the project.

"We can guess that it may cost less," she said, "but we all know that it's not going to be constructed next year." She reminded aldermen that they also must consider land acquisition costs.

City taxpayers, she said, also would be stuck with paying liability costs if a child is injured while climbing the retaining wall or if private property erodes because of the work.

Kevin Myron, who, with his father Craig, has restored two abandoned grain elevators into a successful grain and fertilizer business in lower Vermillion, urged aldermen to consider traffic and safety issues.

"The way to make a safe road is not to keep it an unsafe road," he said. "Someday, somebody is going to get seriously injured or killed on this road. I'm adamant about this because it could be one of my employees or customers."

The meeting was videotaped, and will be played on Vermillion cable channel 3, Kozak said. The street issue also will appear on the meeting agenda of the city council in the near future, he said.

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