The Ottumwa Courier

September 3, 2013

Council tries to balance trees, street work

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — City officials wrestled with two conflicting goals Tuesday. People in town have made it clear they want their streets improved, but they also want to keep their trees.

Questions about how the city handled the sewer separation project and the number of trees that were removed during construction have caused headaches for the city. This time the council had no concerns about public notification; City Engineer Lary Seals said residents along the streets facing the work were notified.

The trees are still an issue, though. The most extensive work on the Richmond sewer area would lead to the removal of 20 trees. Seals said the issue is the roots, not the trunks of the trees.

“The way these trees are placed, we're going to be into the root ball,” with the more extensive work, he said.

The first option did the least extensive improvements for the street and sidewalks, but saved trees. Option 2 was slightly more extensive, but would cost 10 trees more than the first option. Option 3 was the most expensive, and also cost the most trees.

Councilman Bob Meyers asked Seals for clarification on whether Option 1 resembles prior work. Seals said it's not always possible to save large trees, which means people are more likely to lose mature shade trees.

“We have tried to save some in the past. If they're far enough back and small enough, you're able to,” he said.

Mayor Frank Flanders said it is tempting to take the view that the streets will eventually need replacement anyway, so the city should do the most work now. But that ignores the most likely timeline for sewer repairs. He said the best projections there put sewer repairs at about the same time as the street will have deteriorated to the point it will need significant work under Option 1.

That's the option the city wound up accepting, with the council voting unanimously. Seals cautioned that if the city decides to expand the street at any point in the future, it will require removal of trees along the roadway.

The council also adopted a new nuisance ordinance, an effort officials say has been in the works for more than a decade. Some of the issues in the ordinance, such as prohibitions on the slaughter of animals in residential areas, aren't likely to offend people.

Other section will have very real impacts. Yard sales and garage sales, along with flea markets, are limited to no more than five consecutive days and may be held no more frequently than twice per year. Even sales that comply with those restrictions could be designated nuisances if they fail to control windblown items.

Residential composting appears in the new ordinance as well. Yard waste, straw, fruit and vegetable scrap, eggshells (but not whole eggs) and coffee grounds can be composted. But compost cannot attract insects or create “foul odors.”

The city also edged closer to deciding questions about Dennis Renfrew's future on the ballot for city council. Renfrew submitted enough signatures to appear as a candidate in the council primary, but City Clerk Amanda Valent has said some of the signatures came from outside city limits. That's an apparent violation of petition requirements laid out in state law.

Flanders said the procedure involves creation of a board to review the issue. The board includes the mayor and city clerk, but also requires one council member.

Councilman Brian Morgan volunteered.

“I know Mr. Renfrew, but I don't know him well enough that it would influence my decision,” he said.