City Council Recap: Ware Road Landfill Update, M-21 Road Closure

Lowell City Council met for a little more than an hour on Monday night for their first meeting of May. Mayor Mike DeVore was absent so the meeting was run by Mayor Pro Tem Marty Chambers. All other councilmembers were present.

To start the meeting, councilmembers approved the consent agenda which authorized the payment of $593,453 in invoices and set a public hearing for the 2024-25 city budget. The date of that public hearing was not included in the agenda and, as of this writing, is not listed in the public notices section of the city website.

Public Comment: Removal of Trees, Riverside Drive

Shannon Kennedy, executive director of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, addressed councilmembers during the public comment portion of the meeting. She was seeking permission to remove three trees that had been planted on property north of the library.

Apparently, a resident of RiverView Flats planted the trees, which were received through a promotion offered by Lowell Light & Power and the Arbor Day Foundation. However, the trees were planted on city property in an area that the chamber uses for the Riverwalk Festival. Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard said he would work with Kennedy to relocate the trees.

Riverside Drive resident Kimball Dlouhy also spoke during public comments and noted that his block is the only one on which there are no driveways coming off Riverside. To address speeding on the street, he suggested ending Riverside Drive at the start of that block and having the road curve onto Suffolk. Then, a block to the north, Riverside could pick-up again at Foreman Street.

Dlouhy thought this might prevent people from speeding down Riverside as they try to bypass Hudson. He was thanked for his suggestion.

Ware Road Landfill Update

The first piece of old business on the agenda was an update on well testing at the Ware Road landfill. This municipal landfill is owned by the City of Lowell and was in use until the early 1980s. Last year, PFAS were detected in monitoring wells on the site.

City Manager Mike Burns said he had been sending out regular updates to residents in the area, but a number of emails apparently aren’t getting delivered. He encouraged anyone who had signed up for emails but was not getting them to contact him.

“Couldn’t we just send a letter out?” Chambers asked. “I’d rather do it that way than hope they see it on YouTube.” Burns said he could look into sending letters.

Emma Zawisza, a project manager with environmental engineering firm BLDI, was on hand to provide an update on the well testing and review the cost of work going forward.

She noted 41 wells on properties surrounding the landfill had been tested and those results showed “great data.” Of those wells, 39 had no lab-detected contamination. Two had detectable levels that were below state reporting guidelines, and two had levels that were reportable.

The two wells with reportable contamination are located in an area outside of where groundwater flows from the landfill site. Therefore, it is believed that contamination must come from a source other than the landfill.

Going forward, BLDI plans to dig additional wells at depths ranging from 30 feet to 120 feet. These will be tested for the presences of VOCs and PFOA. Work at the site will continue through 2026, and the city has budgeted $230,000 to cover costs in 2024-2025. The price for the following year is expected to be similar.

Gold Star Memorial Dedication

The Lowell Showboat Garden Club requested that the city close M-21 on Saturday, July 27, from 10am-12pm for the dedication of a Gold Star Memorial. The group previously dedicated a Blue Star Memorial on the M-21 bridge and noted that trying to seat everyone on the sidewalk was difficult. They requested the road closure so chairs could be placed in the roadway.

“It’s going to require a number of resources to harden the area,” Burns said. Hardening refers to the process of placing DPW trucks or other equipment at access points to ensure no vehicles are able to drive through the closed road. “We’re just really concerned about this, especially for the length of time,” he added.

Kennedy noted from the audience that the day coincided with the Fallasburg Village Celebration, which could result in an increased number of people trying to get into downtown Lowell.

No representative from the Lowell Showboat Garden Club was present, and it was briefly discussed whether to table the request.

Councilmember Leah Groves suggested offering to close the parking lot to the south of the memorial. This would provide enough room for all participants to be seated but eliminate the safety concern of people in the roadway. Resident Susan Stevens agreed and thought that was a good idea since the Veteran’s Memorial was located there.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to offer to close the parking lot, rather than M-21, for the July 27 event.

Water and Sewer Rate Increases Could be Reduced

Last month, Lowell City Council voted to raise water rates for city customers by 58% over the next six years and sewer rates by 41% over the same period. During discussion on the issue, Burns told councilmembers that he had explored all options and the rate increases were necessary to complete a project on Washington Street.

Then, during a budget work session, resident Tyler Kent apparently asked about the possibility of the Downtown Development Authority paying for a portion of the Washington project.

On Monday, Burns said it had not previously occurred to him that the DDA might be able to share some of the costs. But on investigation, he learned that 36% of the linear footage on Washington and 41% of linear footage on Monroe fall within the DDA boundaries.

By asking the DDA to contribute toward bond payments for the last year’s Monroe project and this year’s Washington project, Burns said the water rate increases could be decreased by a half percent while the sewer rate increases could drop to 6.5%

Other Meeting News

Other votes during Monday’s meeting included the following:

  • Councilmembers unanimously approved a concept plan for a new skate park. More about that can be found in this article.
  • Councilmembers unanimously approved a new resolution regarding permitting for work done in the MDOT right-of-way. This resolution is an update to a resolution passed several years ago, and the only change made was to replace specific city employee names with their title.
  • Councilmembers unanimously approved a $21,600 bid to replace the concrete approach in the DPW parking lot.

During councilmember comments, Groves thanked Bob Rogers for his work raising funds to update the city’s skate park. “I think it’s cool when someone who’s not even a skater sees a need and steps in,” she said.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel said the council has “failed” by neglecting to complete a city manager evaluation during the past two years. Since the mayor works closely with the city manager, Salzwedel says it typically falls to the mayor pro tem to oversee the evaluation process. He noted that he was happy to help Chambers as needed.

Chambers asked why the budget included a line item to replace a fence on S. Broadway that was put in place for the benefit of King Milling Company. He thought the replacement was not the responsibility of the city.

LaBombard said the city was picking up the cost because it wanted to install a fence on a rolling track across the roadway. This will make it easiest for DPW workers who have to open the fence when plowing or otherwise accessing the road.

The meeting adjourned at 8:12pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be on Monday, May 20, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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