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RAGBRAI impact main focus at latest Charles City Council planning session

Clearwell project, bidding on 6th Avenue property also discussed

By Mitchell Hanson,

The Charles City Council met Wednesday evening for a planning session, and, perhaps expectedly, RAGBRAI was a major focus.

This summer’s big event dominated the meeting’s agenda, with the council discussing street closures, increased law enforcement and expanded cell phone service for when the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa visits Charles City on July 28-29.

The city has been approached by US Cellular about erecting a temporary cell phone tower in the city, meant to handle the massive influx of cell phone service brought in by the anticipated 15,000 to 20,000 participants, support staff and community visitors during RAGBRAI’s overnight stay.

The company stated “their circuits could overload without additional support,” and a downtown location would be necessary for a tower in order to provide the appropriate service range.

The public parking lot south of Clark Street was the first location proposed for the tower, near the Clark and Main streets intersection. But council members expressed some concern about the location, agreeing that they wouldn’t want to inconvenience those who regularly use the lot during the two weeks it would take to construct the tower, just for the two days it would be used.

Mayor Dean Andrews agreed with the council that such a tower is necessary — “especially for law enforcement that day” — but wondered if the proposed location was the best place for it.

Council member Phillip Knighten suggested an alternative, saying the tower could be “moved to maybe the Senior Center lot, someplace not so central.”

Another possible location mentioned by Council member Phoebe Pittman was the southeast corner of the public lot used by Hy-Vee, near the NIACC office. “It’s not a heavily used lot,” she said.

City staff will be in further contact with US Cellular before next Monday’s regular council meeting in order to determine the most desirable location for the temporary cell phone tower.

In additional RAGBRAI topics, extra law enforcement from neighboring municipalities has been requested to help manage the flow of traffic and assist in other areas during the event’s overnight visit on July 28.

Any additional law enforcement will remain employed by their respective departments but will be supervised by Charles City Police Chief Hugh Anderson.

Regarding RAGBRAI traffic, numerous road closings were discussed, with street closures set to begin on Wednesday, July 27, around Central Park and the 200 block of North Jackson Street to facilitate the setup of stages and other equipment.

According to the meeting’s agenda, the street closures of North Main, Riverside, Clark, and further out on Kelly and Blunt streets will begin the night of July 27. The route into downtown, including all side streets intersecting Highway 14 and South Main Street, will be closed in the early hours of July 28. They will be reopened that evening at around 6-8 p.m.

South Main Street and Gilbert Street to the north of the intersection will be closed in the early morning hours of July 28 along with the intersection of South Main and Court streets These will remain closed until the early morning of July 29, when most RAGBRAI participants are likely to begin their departure from Charles City.

No citizen vehicle access will be permitted in the downtown area during the event.

All businesses and residences on closed streets will be notified of specific closing times in advance of the event.

In other news, the council discussed the property located at 515 6th Avenue. Though stressing it was “not a nuisance property,” council members did note that it was up for a minimum bid of $12,000, as the previous owner had died with no next of kin interested in dealing with the property.

The city, having acquired it, declared it a “nice property, a good starter home,” once cleaned up, and that the only nuisance was largely some junk, weeds and grass.

Council member Patrick Lumley said that the city wanted to be “proactive during this housing shortage,” and that the home on the property “is worth something,” hoping that potential bidders didn’t wish to acquire the property simply to neglect it or get rid of the house.

The agenda further stated that initial sealed bids would need to be delivered by May 30 following publication of the bid notice authorized at the May 16 council meeting.

A second round of sealed bids for the two highest bidders would be due by Friday, June 3, a public hearing on the purchase would be held June 20 and the purchase agreement could be approved at that meeting. The transaction would close around mid-July.

One of the conditions of the sale would require that any current nuisances at the property be abated. The property has an assessed value of $23,800, and the council members said they were pleased to open bidding up at the $12,000 minimum, adding that it’s not too often they acquire a property and salvage it to keep it in the housing stock.

Also at the meeting, preliminary plans and specifications for the one-million gallon clearwell tank at the water treatment plant were reviewed by the council. A representative from SEH Engineers was present to address any questions or concerns.

The possibility of unearthing any archaeological findings during the clearwell construction was mentioned, but it was determined that nothing significant had been found in the location so far.

In July 2021, the council approved a professional services agreement with SEH for the design of a clearwell project. The project consists of constructing a new clearwell on the south side of the water treatment plant site. This project would provide additional volume to store treated water and allow the plant to operate much more efficiently, city officials said.

The current layout with limited storage causes issues for the operation of the water plant, according to information in the council agenda packet. The lack of storage volume creates, among other things, additional wear and tear on pumps and other equipment, additional lime usage, and increased utility and maintenance costs.

Another important need for a larger clearwell is to provide increased capacity for emergency use. The project is estimated to cost $4.4 million.

Currently, the project bid letting is scheduled for July 14, the public hearing and award of contract could occur on August 1, and the council could approve the contract and bonds on Aug. 15. Construction will begin following the contract and bond approval, and the project is expected to be completed and operational by the end of 2023.

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