Property agreement dodges eminent domain suit

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission last week approved more property acquisitions for city road projects, avoiding eminent domain action that was previously approved for one location.

At its regular meeting, the commission in two split votes approved two purchase agreements with property owners for the hospital project and the roundabout at Fair and Presque Isle avenues.

Commissioner Sara Cambensy cast the nay votes.

The city will pay $22,500, funded through the brownfield plan for the Duke LifePoint hospital replacement project, for a portion of property on Homestead Street owned by Tyler Pederson.

“For the record, I understand this is necessary for the hospital project. However, I will be voting ‘no’ on it consistent with my record, due to the financial risk I feel is out there for the taxpayers with the entire agreement we signed with the hospital,” Cambensy said. “I really strongly feel the agreement we signed is high risk, especially with where health care is going in our country and in our state.”

The city has been in the process of acquiring seven properties or portions of properties from six property owners for road reconstruction projects. Assistant City Manager Jen LePage said Wednesday in an email that all but three have closed, with tentative agreements in place for those remaining.

The commission previously approved resolutions of necessity that would have allowed the city to use eminent domain to acquire two of the properties — a duplex at 518 S. Seventh St. owned by sisters Linda and Jan Johnson, and a portion of 1318 Presque Isle Ave. owned by Valokuva LLC.

On Monday, the commission approved the Valokuva purchase agreement for a cash payment of $15,000.

“The city attorney is still discussing a resolution with the Johnsons’ attorney. No legal action has been taken or is pending, and at this point, we don’t anticipate any legal action in the future,” LePage wrote.

Commissioner Sarah Reynolds expressed relief an agreement with Valokuva was reached without legal action.

“I’m glad that we didn’t end up having to file a suit, and I thank the city attorney and the city manager for getting this taken care of,” Reynolds said.

The property is being purchased as a right-of-way for construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Presque Isle and Fair avenues. The reconstruction project is part of the six-year capital improvements plan.

Cambensy’s interpretation of the cost and necessity of the roundabout, based on a city traffic study, conflicted with that of city staff and other commissioners.

“As we almost double our debt as a city right now, I think we need to be very cautious of every project we do, whether it’s in the capital improvement plan or not,” Cambensy said. “I think a lot of the taxpayers are looking at us saying, ‘If we don’t absolutely need to do this, especially not knowing what’s happening with the existing hospital. Can we stop and slow down a bit and ask ourselves if this is necessary?'”

Commissioner Mike Plourde said it’s necessary and cost-saving.

“Not only are (roundabouts) safer, but they’re cheaper, and that’s huge for us,” Plourde said. “This really is a big savings to the taxpayers, and it’s something the taxpayers really need to look at.”

Director of Planning and Community Development Dennis Stachewicz said the roundabout is saving the cost of a traffic light at that intersection, plus the cost of replacing one at Kaye Avenue and Fourth Street, for a total savings of about $300,000, plus future maintenance and electricity of the lights. He said the difference between adding the roundabout and reconstructing it the same way wouldn’t be significant.

Mayor Dave Campana said he used to agree with Cambensy but now is convinced if the costs are the same.

“We might as well do a roundabout — they’re safer,” said.

Cambensy said the traffic study is open to interpretation and doesn’t necessarily recommend a traffic light there.

The 2014 City of Marquette Traffic Study on page 44 states that recommended mitigation for that intersection is a traffic light or mini-roundabout. A more detailed assessment on page 15 says, “This intersection has a heavy westbound to southbound left turn volume which is the stopcontrolled movement. Installation of a traffic signal would be the most cost-effective way to address this, however a traffic signal is not warranted since the volume of right turning vehicles from the side street was reduced based on the guidance described above. The other alternative for this location would be the installation of a mini-roundabout.”

The commission also unanimously:

≤ approved critical repairs to the Camelback Bridge that serves as crossing for the multi-use path over the Dead River at a cost of $201,000;

≤ awarded a contract to Great Lakes Dock and Material for an amount not to exceed $196,830 to the water fund to repair a water intake pipe that extends out into Lake Superior as part of the city’s water system;

≤ awarded a contract for street improvements/bituminous paving and sanitary lateral replacements for gravel street upgrades project to Oberstar Inc. in an amount not to exceed $1.8 million; and

≤ following a public hearing, amended the zoning ordinance to address inadvertently omitted aspects of the previously adopted codes for short-term rental properties, including adding homestays and vacation home rentals as principal uses in the mixed-use districts.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@ miningjournal.net.