City Council Recap: Landfill Update, Rental Property Decision

All councilmembers were present for Lowell City Council’s first meeting of 2022. Held last night, the main agenda items mirrored a meeting from two years ago in which the Ware Road landfill and a rental property at 990 N. Washington Street were the main items of discussion.

The 37-minute session also included a number of annual housekeeping items, such as electing officers, approving bank signature authorizations and establishing a poverty exemption as required by law. There were no public comments received during the meeting.

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Council Elects New Mayor Pro Tem

The first order of business was to elect officers and adopt the rules of procedure. While voters in the City of Lowell choose councilmembers, the mayor and mayor pro tem are elected internally by the council.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel nominated current Mayor Mike DeVore to return to the position for 2022. That motion was seconded by Councilmember Leah Groves and unanimously approved. No other nominations for the position were made.

Then, it was time to pick a mayor pro tem. Salzwedel, who held that position in 2021, said he understood someone else was interested in the spot. That person was Councilmember Marty Chambers.

“I’d like to take the next two years and be the mayor pro tem,” Chambers said. “I’ve been sitting here for a long time, and I think it’s about time.” He added that visibility is an issue, and as co-owner of Red Barn Consignment & Antiques in downtown Lowell, he has had people say he is more accessible.

Salzwedel said he understood Chambers has a more visible job in the community, but he took some offense to the idea that he is not accessible. He also noted he had not heard any complaints from residents. “If [people] didn’t think I was doing my job, it would have been nice if they would have come to me,” he said.

DeVore opened the floor for nominations to the mayor pro tem position. No one responded, and DeVore mentioned that Chambers or Salzwedel could nominate themselves. Chambers did so, and Salzwedel seconded the motion. It passed unanimously, making Chambers the new mayor pro tem.

Update on Ware Road Landfill

Next was an update from a representative of environmental engineering firm BLDI regarding the city’s Ware Road landfill.

The landfill was apparently in use from the 1950s through the 1970s and was officially closed in 1983. Three monitoring wells were installed at the site in 1986 after a potential contamination issue was identified. However, no action was apparently taken after that. The city was notified of the outstanding issue in 2019 and has been working with BLDI since then to map out the extent of the contamination.

So far, 11 monitoring wells have been placed at the site, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been found across the property. The VOCs are apparently just above the allowable limits in many samples. While the contamination has been found in groundwater, it is not in the soil and is at a depth that is far shallower than the drinking water aquifer.

The next step is to install wells off-site on private property to see if any contamination has spread away from the landfill. This is expected to cost $105,000. Once the area of the contamination plume is identified, the next step will likely be annual monitoring to ensure VOCs aren’t spreading elsewhere.

Lease to End for N. Washington Street Rental

The next agenda item was the rental property at 990 N. Washington Street.

More than a decade ago, Lowell City Council became aware that a couple had been living at the property since 1979 and only paying $75 a month in rent. After receiving extensive public comment, the council decided in 2010 to increase the rent and grant the couple a 10-year lease, the longest allowed by the city charter.

When the lease expired in 2020, the council extended it for another two years. That lease will expire this July, and City Manager Mike Burns asked the council for their direction on how to proceed with the property.

“I don’t think we should be in the landlord business,” DeVore said. “I thought we told them this would be the last lease.”

Chambers said that was his recollection as well. Groves, who noted she was not on the council when the lease was signed, added” “If our word was that this was the last lease, we should stick to our word.”

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich made a motion that the lease should not be extended again, and DeVore seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

Council Comments

Burns noted he had been off for 11 days and had nothing to report to councilmembers.

Salzwedel reminded people that LCTV grant applications are due to city hall by 5pm on February 5.

Yankovich had prepared remarks and said he had a number of people he’d like to thank. These included all those who did not sign the school board recall petitions – which reportedly did not receive enough signatures to be successful – as well as the city attorney for her advice that the city not limit marijuana businesses in town. He believed this advice has helped the city avoid a lawsuit.

Yankovich also had praise for Burns and thought he was doing better than any previous city administrator. He said Burns has been able to balance the budget, reduce the city’s pension liability and start fixing the roads.

Finally, Yankovich said thank you to his fellow councilmembers, noting that he felt everyone on the council was working in citizen’s best interests.

The meeting adjourned at 7:37pm, and Lowell City Council will next meet on Tuesday, January 18, at 7pm. While the council normally meets on a Monday, the next meeting is being moved because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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