Street sparks remarks

Preliminary plans for the reconstruction of West Auglaize Street are to be completed so city legislators, a city board and residents can review them before they are sent to the state for approval, Wapakoneta’s mayor said during and after Monday’s Wapakoneta City Council meeting.

Wapakoneta 1st Ward Councilor Jim Neumeier expressed concerns of West Auglaize Street residents regarding the possibility of widening the street 2 feet on both sides and the subsequent removal of trees in the tree lawn to accommodate this widening as part of a full-depth reconstruction of the street from South Blackhoof Street to West Pearl Street.

Neumeier said his major concern could be the lack of public input into the process and he does not want another situation like city leaders experienced with the $2.1 million East Auglaize Street full-depth reconstruction project where public input came after plans were submitted to Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials and approved. This made the input moot since the drawings could not be changed for that project at that point.

“I thought at that time we established that when we did West Auglaize Street or moving forward from the East Auglaize Street project that we would have public input before the design phase of the project was started,” Neumeier said, sharing he also talked with Engineering Department personnel and they indicated ODOT requires a minimum width of the street and trees would have to be removed.

Mayor Rodney Metz informed councilors of the direction he gave city administrators on the $2 million West Auglaize Street project.

“I talked with Mary Ruck, Engineering Department superintendent, and told her the plans need to be finished, submitted to the Wapakoneta City Tree Commission, Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks Committee and city council a month before a public hearing is even scheduled,” Metz said. “When Mary said there could be some trees removed, I told her, ‘No, there would be no trees removed.’ Now we will have to see what we get.”

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Urban Forester Stephanie Miller is scheduled to visit Wapakoneta in April so she can assist in the review process.

“I understand from talking with Mary that the plans submitted to the state are worst case scenario in regard to width and removal of trees,” Metz said, “and once we talk with Stephanie we may learn we will not have to take down trees initially marked for removal.”

After the meeting, Safety-Service Director Bill Rains said city administrators and councilors will control of the project’s timeline and if they and residents are not satisfied then the project could be in jeopardy.

“We will dictate what that project looks like and if we do not meet the parameters of the grant then we will have to re-evaluate that project,” Rains said, explaining it could mean a chance at losing nearly $2 million and a chance to separate more storm and sanitary sewer lines in the city. “It was made clear the last time that we wanted to make sure that we wanted more public input, we wanted more council input and we wanted more administrative input and we will have that.”

Having driven the street, Rains wondered if certain portions of the street even needed widening at all while he believes other sections may need widened, but “we will have to do the survey work and find out.”

He clarified one concern, noting with ODOT providing the majority of the funds they can dictate certain aspects of the project.

“This is an 80-20 project and with them giving up 80 percent of the funding then they certainly have some rights to dictate certain parameters,” Rains said. “They just may not be what West Auglaize Street residents are willing to put up with, or this council is willing to get involved with.”

Councilor-at-large Dan Graf, who chairs the Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks Committee, agreed with Neumeier that moving forward that public input should be heard earlier in the process.

“We do want an opportunity to review the proposal before it gets to the point that we are told it is already approved and we can’t change the drawings,” Graf said. “We want to have the chance to review those drawings. I share the concerns of this council and maybe we can get a clearer picture and a timeline set and established for that project. I agree that we receive a chance to review the drawings before the project moves forward.”

Graf noted his committee is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. March 6 and hopes to receive a status update and a possible timeline of the project at that meeting.

In August, city administrators learned ODOT would provide $1.8 million for the $2 million West Auglaize Street full-depth reconstruction project. The city would be required to provide 20 percent, or approximately $350,000.

During a Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks Committee meeting last year, Graf noted Wapakoneta Engineering Department personnel would start work on preliminary drawings for the project and work with the state and consultants on schemes and diagrams. These drawings were to be completed by 2014 with public input likely scheduled through meetings in 2014 so plans can be altered before the project goes to bid.

The West Auglaize Street reconstruction project would likely start in the spring or summer of 2015 and finish by the end of the street season, which is Sept. 30.

At Monday’s council meeting, Graf said he would like to know if the width of the street in the project area is going to match the width of the street from West Pearl Street to the city limits, a project completed in 2001.

Wapakoneta 3rd Ward Councilor Bonnie Wurst, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the grant may not even be accepted if Finance Committee does not recommend funding for the project.