City Council Recap: Island to Be Added to Monroe Street

One possible configuration of the Monroe Street island

Lowell City Council met in open session for approximately 50 minutes on Tuesday night for its second regular meeting of January. A planned presentation on affordable housing was removed from the agenda since the adverse weather prevented safe travel for that item’s speaker.

However, the council did cover four pieces of new business, including the approval of an island on Monroe Street. Then, they went into a closed session under a catch-all provision of the Open Meetings Act that allows bodies to privately “consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”

All councilmembers were present except Councilmember Marty Chambers.

Monroe Street Island Approved on Split Vote

Of all the agenda items, the one likely to have the most direct impact on residents is the addition of an island on Monroe Street immediately north of Main Street.

Councilmembers have long discussed how to deter trucks from using Monroe Street to travel to the Atwood facility. Whether because of their GPS or for other reasons, many trucks use Monroe instead of the designated truck route on Jefferson Street. City officials have also expressed concern with people turning left off Monroe onto Main Street since parked vehicles can limit visibility for those turning.

Last night, City Manager Mike Burns recommended councilmembers approve a proposal to create an island on Monroe to address both issues. The island would make it difficult for large trucks to turn left onto Monroe, and it would also eliminate the ability to turn left onto Main Street.

The Downtown Development Authority has apparently indicated its willingness to pay for the expense, which is estimated at $83,000-$100,000 depending on the design used. The island will be landscaped, and parking spaces may be added to it as well.

To facilitate creation of the island, the section of Monroe from Main Street to Avery Street must be reclassified as a local street, rather than a major street. On a 3-1 vote, councilmembers approved the city taking the necessary steps to add the island. Councilmember Leah Groves cast the dissenting vote.

“I don’t like the idea of parking in the middle of the road,” she told Lowell’s First Look after the meeting when asked about her ‘no’ vote. While she does think truck traffic needs to be addressed, she didn’t feel this was the right solution and could also cause problems for DPW workers when plowing roads. “I think it’s a quick fix,” Groves said.

Sewer Repair and Water Inspections Approved

On unanimous votes, councilmembers approved design work for a sewer repair on Jefferson Street as well as a two-year contract for inspections to avoid cross-contamination in the water system.

The sewer repair will replace the sewer line on Jefferson Street from Main Street south to Kent Street. That line has deteriorated to the point where Burns said root balls are entering the line. Design work for the replacement is $9,000 while the actual construction costs are estimated to be just shy of $145,000.

For water inspections, the city has contracted with HydroCorp out of Troy, Michigan, for the past 19 years for this work. These inspections ensure water customers don’t have any cross connections that could result in backflow that contaminates the water system.

The current contract will span two years and have a total cost of approximately $52,000. For that, HydroCorp guarantees a minimum of 135 residential inspections each year and 96 commercial inspections annually.

Councilmember Eric Bartkus noted that he has twice received notices about inspections and called to make an appointment. While he was told he was on the schedule for an inspection, he still received a disconnection notice each time for noncompliance.

“Yeah, operations handles that,” said an unidentified representative of HydroCorp who was in the audience. “Sounds like a miscommunication to me.”

“I hope we can improve on that going forward,” Bartkus said. After a long pause, the company representative said he would look into it.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel noted that he had never received a notice about an inspection in the nearly 20 years he’s lived in the city. Burns replied that it was usually those with irrigation systems who were contacted for inspections.

Other Meeting Items

Other activity from Tuesday’s meeting included the following:

  • A presentation of the city’s annual audit which provided a “clean opinion” with “no significant weaknesses” found.
  • An update from Burns on PFAS testing at the Ware Road landfill. So far, water has been tested at eight sites on the property, and none have exceeded state standards for PFAS.
  • Bartkus said at a recent Arbor Board meeting it was noted that 46 trees had been removed in the city last year, but replacements had not yet been planted. The Arbor Board is also looking for a business that would like a tree planted for Arbor Day 2024.
  • Salzwedel noted that applications are due soon for grant requests from the LCTV Fund.

The open meeting adjourned at 7:49pm, and the remainder of the meeting was a closed session. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, Feb. 5, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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