By Kayleigh Rahn
TUSCOLA–A resident says a string of health concerns she’s experienced this year is connected to the smoke resulting from the burning of yard debris at the City Landscape Waste Facility.
Tuscola’s Debbie Nivens, who lives near the intersection of Houghton and Carico, told the Tuscola City Council during its meeting Monday, July 22 that her family has noticed the smoke blowing into their home during the last six to nine months. She now hopes the city is able to consider options to slow the amount of illegal activity at the dump to stymy the burning.
“I’m not so sure that the problem is with the burning as much as it is with the smoldering,” she told the council Monday. “I realize that the burning is permitted by the EPA according to certain guidelines and that works, I suppose, until it’s left to burn. Then it smolders for days and days and days. This year we had such a rainy start to summer, it rained about every other day, and yet that fire burned then it smoldered.”
Nivens said she visited the heath center with symptoms she relates to the smoke.
“My eyes were burning, my chest was scratchy, my sinuses were inflamed, and they said they’d been seeing a lot of that,” she said. “I really think it’s one of those things that we haven’t paid much attention to, but it’s affecting us.”
Nivens says she understood that no one wants to spend money or change the service; however, she and her husband Chuck Nivens have suggested ways to alter the process.
She suggested clearer signs stating the rules and finding ways to limit the facility for resident use only such as a key card to be used at a gate.
“I think if we control who dumps there we can control the amount or the need to burn,” she said. “We are grateful to take tree limbs and other yard waste over, but there is a myriad of things going on over there.”
Mayor Dan Kleiss says throughout his more than three decades in office the issue of the yard waste facility has come to the council on several occasions.
“It is a challenge,” Kleiss said. “Most of the citizens here in Tuscola say, don’t let that go away. We have been successful in eliminating trash other than yard waste being dumped, which is encouraging, but for what ever reason people feel the need to light it off themselves.”
Public Works Superintendent Denny Cruzan cautioned the council against charging people to use the facility, because that would likely significantly alter the EPA regulations for the facility.
“(Police) Chief (Craig) Hastings will tell you that enforcement is imperfect,” City Administrator Drew Hoel said. “We employ a lot of strategies to try to limit misuse. The signs are one of those strategies, the gates in the past are those strategies. As a result we’ve had people vandalize the gates to get in there after hours. We try to find a balance in there of making it accessible.”
The city turns away commercial haulers to allow the site to remain available for residents without increasing the cost, Hoel noted.
“The biggest thing that frustrates (Cruzan) and me is we go to great lengths to only burn when the conditions are right, and a lot of times–and I don’t understand this–I am amazed at how often people set it on fire,” Hoel said.
Nivens suggested that the liability could be tremendous, though City Attorney Andrew Bequette said he would not be concerned with a question of liability if the injured patron were breaking the rules of the facility.
Hastings said the city has tried locking the gate in the past, though residents then dump their yard waste at the gate instead.
“It’s something you don’t notice if you have healthy lungs,” Alderwoman Phyllis Truitt added.
The council agreed to look into possible remedies, specifically security cameras that would result in fines if patrons were caught using the dump illegally.
In other business, the council has opted to move forward with efforts to help Ironhorse subdivision find a remedy to ongoing drainage issues by way of a Special Services Area. The area would create a tax levy that would allow for only that subdivision’s property owners to pay for work to correct the drainage infrastructure.
“There is a fairly narrow time window to consider adoption of a Special Service Area for the Ironhorse drainage issues if we are to enact it in time for this year’s tax levy,” Hoel wrote in his bi-monthly report.
To that end, the council approved an agreement with PGAV Planners who will complete urban planning and consulting for an amount not to exceed $5,000 and an agreement with Francis Associates for engineering services not to exceed $40,000 for the entire project (including construction).
“Of that amount, $15,600 would be for the preliminary steps to develop the project concept and cost of the Special Services Area consideration,” Hoel wrote. “So, the city would be ‘risking’ $20,600 in consulting fees, all of which would be reimbursed from the Special Services Area if and when approved (by those residents).”
Hoel said there is a solid base of support for the levy to be created for the Ironhorse subdivision represented through the neighborhood’s homeowners’ association.
The formal process would begin with approval of an ordinance that will be presented to the council during the next meeting.
The Joint Water Agency, owned by the cities of Arcola and Tuscola, has identified several ongoing deficiencies in the Sadorus Road Pump Station.
“We discussed with the Joint Agency Board an approximate budget of $100,000, all of which we believe can be paid out of existing Joint Agency cash reserves and/or cash flow in the current year,” Hoel’s report states. However, the intergovernmental agreement states that both city’s councils should approve significant projects, the first of these projects being the sandblasting, painting, and possible metal floor replacement of the facility.
The Tuscola council on Monday gave the green light for the agency to waive formal bidding and enter into a contract with Hanfland Painting Contractors, LLC for an amount not to exceed $37,000. The work will cost $34,224 for sandblasting and painting with an additional $2,776 available for possible welding and metal replacement in the floor of the enclosure.
Also in his bi-monthly report, Hoel said he has received several inquiries regarding the Love’s Travel Store to be developed on the southeast corner of town near Route 36 and Interstate 57.
“The Love’s project is still very much on track, and I expect preliminary site preparation to begin within the next moth or so,” he wrote in his report to the council. “The developer has been awaiting final engineering for permit submittals, which I am told are all now completed. The state permits should be issued within the next few weeks and bids will be advertised as soon as the permits are imminent.”
Also in his notes, Hoel said the city has received the full letter of flood map revision regarding the mitigation work completed around Hayes Branch.
“Now, all of the new areas are formally recognized as being above the base floodplain elevation, meaning that those lots can be built upon without extraordinary floodplain mitigation measures and without flood insurance,” Hoel wrote. “It also means that our efforts at floodplain mitigation in the area were successful, and that we should finally be done incurring costs in that TIFF.”
Also on Monday, the council appointed two full-time police officers to join the Tuscola Police Department. The officers are Emily Oberg, who will come to TPD from the Neoga Police Department at a rate of $21.44 retroactive to Monday, July 15, and Dakota Moore, who has most recently worked for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer. Moore will begin with the TPD Monday, July 29 at a wage of $20.94 per hour.
“We had a good list of candidates, and I was impressed by these two in particular,” Kleiss said.
Finally, Kleiss welcomed back to town new Tuscola schools superintendent Gary Alexander, who was in attendance at the meeting.
Alderman Scott Day was absent Monday.
In other business, the council:
• Approved a street closure for South Prairie Street for the Class of 2022 fundraiser for T’s to be painted along the road in front of the high school from Apgar Avenue to Daggy Street. The class sold about 50 T’s that will be painted by volunteers after 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11.
• Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $258,496.79 including a pay request for Walker Company for the annual seal coat in the amount of $66,666.61, which was less than the bid amount of $83,100.
• Approved a request for fundraising by Tuscola Kiwanis Club for Peanut Days on Oct. 18-19.
• Approved the Cub Scout Pack 80 Camp at Wimple Park July 26-28.
• Approved a Community Building lease for Hugh and Rinda Ponder for a wedding reception Saturday, Sept. 7.
• Learned the TIF delinquency report included Eddie Boutilier and Red Barn Veterinary Service.
• Approved the June 2019 financial report.
• Approved the minutes from the Monday, July 8 meeting.
• Adjourned until the Monday, Aug 12 meeting at 7:30 p.m.