Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bell Ringers Raising Money for Salvation Army

Baldwin Medical Center employees Carol Rens, left, and Ruth Fick served as bell ringers for the Salvation Army Friday afternoon at Nilssen's SuperValu.

Gun Club Ordered Closed

May be reopened if renovated and supervision and operation improve

A St. Croix County Judge has determined that "The use of firearms at the [Central St. Croix Rod and] Gun Club[, Inc.] Property have repeatedly trespassed on the property of the individual plaintiffs" and has "unreasonably interfered with the individual Plaintiffs' use and enjoyment
of their property."

Moreover, the order by Judge Eric Lundell states that "the continued use of firearms at the Gun Club Property as currently configured and operated is sufficiently probable, indeed likely, to result in future trespass and nuisance causing Plaintiffs irreparable harm."

Therefore, Judge Lundell ordered "All use of firearms at the Gun Club Property is prohibited until further Order of this Court," and added conditions to insure that Gun Club members are aware of the order.

The Gun Club is located in the Town of Eau Galle along USH 63 about one-half mile south of CTH N.

According to Barry Serier, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Gun Club, he testified about numerous bullets and shot that was leaving the Gun Club property. He said one of his great uncles had bullets in the walls of his house. Another great uncle also had bullets in outbuildings and was chased off his own property by trespassers. He said trespassers on his land chased his kids off his land.

The Gun Club "was shut down by the court," said Serier. "It can be reopened if they can prove that it can be done safely to the court and plaintiff's satisfaction. We knew there would be a lot of talk and we don't want to be labeled as anti-gun people, but we do want to use our property as we see fit-without fear of being hit by projectiles from a neighboring facility.

"It's just disheartening for us to have to go through this, but we had to do it to protect our families," said Serier.

At the court hearing Serier said he brought many recovered bullets from his field northeast of the Gun Club.

Serier said the lawsuit filed by himself and others, including the organization Citizens for a Safe and Peaceful Eau Galle and Rush River Township, Inc., was their last resort. They had been to the County Zoning Department, which had issued a permit for a trap range at the site. "I really think they had good intentions," said Serier about the individuals who wanted the trap range. "But there were no restrictions placed on them." He added that they next went to the Town Board and the Sheriff's Department because of trespassers, night time shooting and unsupervised shooting, but received no satisfaction. "So we had exhausted our options.

"People started to converse and found out they were not the only ones: neighbors had bullets in their buildings, bullets whistling by them," said Pastor John Hanson who lives about three-quarters of a mile from the range. "Individuals were told to restrict their actions on their own property."

In total, about 12 people in the area had near-misses from direct bullet fire, said Serier, six properties were struck by projectiles, several homesites, and one home. A quick discovery survey by the Citizens found over six hundred projectiles that had left the Range.

Serier said there was alcohol used at the site, and on one occasion he was there, garbage cans were overflowing with garbage and beer cans. In one instance there was a person with an automatic weapon spraying bullets at a hillside.

Pastor Hanson said Citizens for a Safe and Peaceful Eau Galle and Rush River Township, Inc. was formed by more than a dozen neighbors of the shooting range, most of whom are close neighbors. He said there are also many other supporters of the group's efforts, although they are not members.

"I got involved when an elderly lady called one day and reported that there was a lot of activity going on and I feel unsafe," said Pastor Hanson. "Another part of that was due to bullet strikes at their homes."

Among the efforts the plaintiffs in the lawsuit took was to hire a ballistics expert and arrange for an on-site visit.

The Gun Club is on an 11.54 acre parcel, said Serier, which when land is subtracted for the driveway and right-of-way gives about 10 acres and about four acres are actually used for shooting. The lineal dimensions, as per the gun club's own testifying expert, are too short to contain their shotfall zones and safety zones. This expert stated under oath that this physical limitation is a safety issue.

Pastor Hanson explained that the berm is not properly constructed and allows for bullets to skip out of the range since there is no overhead baffling in addition to the berm.

In addition to ordering that all use of firearms at the Gun Club property is prohibited, Judge Lundell said signs shall be posted at the property stating the prohibition, that written notice will be provided to all Gun Club members and that the lock be changed on the gate.

The Court's order provides that the Gun Club may move to lift the injunction "by presenting a plan to physically renovate the Gun Club property and make all other necessary changes, including changes to the operation and supervision of the Gun Club property, to ensure that all shot, bullets, and other projectiles are maintained on the Gun Club property." The plan, wrote Judge Lundell, must include: "(1) drawings by a professional engineer or its equivalent with firearms range design experience, (2) cost estimates, by range; and (3) three-dimensional (CAD) renderings of the plans."

The plans must include "(1) physical design, including perimeter control; and (2) operational controls, including on-site supervision."

"Gun Club shall not be permitted to resume use of firearms until the Court approves the plan and the physical renovations are complete and the Court inspects and verifies that the plan is fully implemented."

The order by Judge Lundell also contains a schedule for presenting the Gun Club's plans to plaintiffs and to the Court, and a schedule for evidentiary hearings "regarding whether the Gun Club's plan ensures that all shot, bullets, and other projectiles are maintained on the Gun Club

The order says that if the Gun Club does not present a plan to the Court and plaintiffs by April 15, 2008 or does not prevail at the evidentiary hearing, "this injunction shall become permanent."

The Gun Club was ordered to provide the plaintiffs' attorney with proof of insurance.

The "plaintiffs are entitled to an award of statutory costs and disbursement," the order states. Serier estimates that amount may be in the range of $20,000, which is but a small fraction of the costs that have been incurred to bring the lawsuit, he said.

BW-School Board Reviews Building Recommendation

The Baldwin-Woodville School Board spent the lion's share of Monday night's meeting discussing last month's recommendation from the Community Facility Needs Exploratory Committee. In November the committee presented the recommendation that an intermediate school for grades three through five be built to alleviate crowding at the elementary and middle schools.

The committee was formed by the board last April with community members who responded to advertising for volunteers. Also serving on the committee are Superintendent Rusty Helland, school board member Jeff Campbell and school employees. John Huenink, construction manager from Kraus-Anderson, and architect Brad Simonson of HSR provided technical assistance to the committee.

Committee member Jane Erickson commented that the group represents a wide range of ages and occupations.

Over the past eight months, the committee met ten times to research, analyze data and brainstorm. In the end, their recommendation is that an intermediate school for grades three through five with six sections at each level should be built. The recommended location for the 90,000 square foot building is north of Greenfield Elementary, just west of the parking lot that currently serves the High School. Estimated price tagis $16,494,000 according to preliminary cost figures provided by Kraus-Anderson.

Steve Apfelbacher of Ehlers and Associates explained the financial impact of the project using the preliminary figure of $16.495 million construction cost, with that debt issued over 20 years. The financing assumptions include bonds being issued in June of 2008 following an April referendum.

Apfelbacher said the district's present debt is $22,061,837. State Aid to the district for debt service is at 69.65 percent annually. As the district's debt increases, the State Aid formula changes and Apfelbacher estimated the new debt would be reimbursed at 63.8 percent.

Current debt capacity of the district is $45,524,792, which is the difference between the $67,586,629 debt limit less the $22,061,837 outstanding, according to Apfelbacher. Board members Tom Schumacher and John Hinz both cautioned against borrowing to the upper debt limit.

The projected interest rate for the project is 4.25 percent said Apfelbacher. That translates into $121.76 yearly tax increase on a $200,000 home, $182.64 for a $300,000 home and $243.51 for a $400,000 home.

"This last year, our growth didn't increase that much," commented Hinz, "What happens if it stays flat?"

If there is no growth in property values the mill rate would go up, said Apfelbacher. He explained that in doing the cost analysis for the district he used a conservative growth estimate of 75 percent of the average of the last five year's growth.

Apfelbacher said the two most important factors for the district to consider from a financial standpoint are how fast is the equalized valuation of the district growing and how much will the state contribute. Both of these can only be estimated.

John Huenink of Kraus-Anderson Construction Company explained the construction manager at risk services, which Kraus-Anderson could provide for the district. Construction manager at risk services assume all responsibility for pre-construction and construction phases of the project.
The district assumes no risk, any problems are the responsibility of the CM, he said.

In addition, the CM at risk charges a fixed fee which is negotiated up front based on estimated cost of the work. There is no mark up for change orders, said Huenink. Checks and balances between the architect and construction manager are built into the process and any savings revert 100 percent to the district, he said.

Architect Brad Simonson explained that the proposed building would add one classroom per grade level. The district has been increasing by an average of 24 students per year according to enrollment figures.

"We're not growing like we were, who knows how far out we can predict," said Hinz. "You can over-build."

"The committee talked about projected enrollment a lot," said Simonson. "At first the recommendation was for seven sections for each grade level, but they didn't want to over-build."

A few board members said the community had been misled in the last building project which assured that Viking Middle School could be added onto in the future.

Simonson said classrooms could be added on at Viking to the various wings and the core areas could handle the added students, but an additional entire grade level wouldn't fit. And that doesn't alleviate the problems at Greenfield Elementary. Classrooms could be added at Viking and the proposed new school in the future as needed Simonson said.

"What happens to the classrooms at Greenfield (that would be vacated by the move of third and fourth grades)," asked board member Dustin Klanderman.

Many programs that have been crowded would now have adequate space including special ed, library and computers, said Simonson. There would also be classrooms for additional grade level

Board member Todd Graf asked what would happen to the new garage next to Greenfield. Simonson said there are several options of where to move the building. He explained that the proposed building is planned for that spot due to the location of the bus loop and main entrance of Greenfield.

Board member Deb Rasmussen noted that the committee was very concerned with the leaking roofs in the district and thought these should be fixed before any new building begins.

Huenink said it's actually the exterior walls that are leaking in places where the flashing was improperly installed. According to Maintenance Supervisor Mike Timm, the district plans to test two sealant products in the spring to see which work or not.

"We're looking at $50,000 at the low end to $350,000 at the high end to replace the flashing," said Supt. Rusty Helland. "We all agree this needs to be fixed as soon as possible."

Rasmussen also asked if the committee addressed the swimming pool issue.

Simonson and Huenink said they estimated $4 million for an indoor pool and $10,000 to $12,000 annual operating costs. They said the committee decided that if the board wants to include the pool on the referendum, it should be a separate question from the proposed school building question.

District resident Ken Rundhaug asked what new administrative staff would be needed for a new building and if operating costs were included or would another referendum question be needed for that.

Simonson said the committee noted there would be additional maintenance staff, serving kitchen staff, as well as teachers. He said there would be a savings on busing costs. Operating costs are not figured into the preliminary building cost estimates, he said.

"These are all good questions," commented Huenink. "Your committee discussed them at length over a period of months and we'll review them with the board if you like."

"I don't think we need to re-invent the wheel," commented board member Mike Bondarenko as he made a motion to pursue the recommendation with further discussion at the next regular board meeting scheduled for Jan. 14.

Motion carried.

Village Applies for Grant for New Treatment Plant

After a presentation by Paul Gont of SEH Engineering, about a proposed upgrade to the village's wastewater treatment plant, the Baldwin Village Board agreed to apply for a grant from the state's clean water fund to help pay for it and to proceed with preparing plans and specifications
for the new treatment plant.

The action came at the board's regular monthly meeting last Wednesday.

Gont told board members that the estimate for construction of the new plant is about $4,500,000, plus engineering fees. Of that amount, the village has about $1,100,000 in funds from user fees and impact fees. The projected impact of the new plant on existing homeowners is about a 30% increase, said Gont.

Among the points discussed by Gont were the need for a generator at the plant; and the possibility of a storage garage being constructed as part of the project.

Gont said the process to prepare the specifications and plans for the plant takes about six months, or approximately to June of 2008.

Following that is an approximately two month approval process and then the Village Board will have to make a decision on whether to go ahead with building the project.

Board members questioned Gont on the amount of engineering fees, which are just short of a million dollars. He noted that as a percentage of the project it is about normal. Trustee Duane Russett said the amount seemed extremely high but Village President Don McGee said the percentage seemed the same as the last treatment plant project.

The motion to proceed with preparing the plans and specifications carried on a voice vote with no one voting no.

In other business at the meeting:
-The board voted for final acceptance of the fourth addition to Berkseth Heights and to reduce the developer's letter of credit.

-With the upgrade of USH 63 through Baldwin, the Department of Transportation is taking over the outside lanes of the highway through the village and they will be used as travel lanes. At present they are parking lanes through most of the village. In preparation for that action, the
board voted to end parking on USH 63 in the village effective April 1.

Village Engineer Mike Stoffel noted that the bid to do the work has been awarded to Monarchfor $3,800,000 but the start date has not been firmly set.

-Stoffel said the village's newly formed Urban Forest Board has met and made some changes in a proposed ordinance, mainly increasing the species acceptable for planting in the village. The board approved the ordinance.

-Two candidates for the newly created fourth judicial branch for St. Croix County spoke to board members. They were: Howard Cameron and Mark Gherty.