City council members engage in wide-ranging discussion on beautification, upkeep, etc.

    A request that some weeds be pulled and the grass get mowed at a single high-profile corner in Crookston at this week's Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting morphed into a much larger discussion about beautification efforts in the community as a whole, huge weeds growing on the new levees, and even dog waste in Oakdale Cemetery.

    Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson, a member of the Chamber of Commerce Beautification Committee, had the topic put on the meeting agenda so she could ask that someone, most likely the Parks & Recreation Department, pay some attention to the flower garden/green space where West Sixth Street curves and becomes University Avenue. The current business there, Farm Bureau Insurance, opened earlier this year after the Crookston Country Market closed.

    "The committee's a little frustrated because we're doing a lot to keep the city pretty," Johnson said. "But we're talking about volunteers; the committee shouldn't be responsible for doing everything all of the time."

    Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle said if someone would have contacted him or someone in his department directly, he would have added the corner in question to their maintenance schedule. It was his understanding, he added, that a private party and/or other volunteers were doing upkeep at that location.

    With fall here and a hard freeze that will officially end the growing season probably not too far off, after Monday's discussion council members and city officials agreed that by the time next spring rolls around various flower gardens, green spaces and "adopted" corners around downtown will be inventoried, and the people who are responsible, volunteers or paid staff, for upkeep and other maintenance at each of the locations will be listed. Riopelle said the list needs some clarification as well, when it comes to who has "adopted" or is simply overseeing or financing a certain corner planter or green space, and who is "actually doing the work."

    "There are a lot of people who put in a lot of time on these things, but I think they'd like to know who's actually in charge of keeping track of what needs attention all over the city," At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye added. "That way, if the grass is getting high somewhere or the weeds are overgrown, people will know who to tell."

    And, with that, the discussion expanded. Johnson, for example, mentioned weeds growing through the rocks at the "Welcome to Crookston" signs at the major entrances to town. She also mentioned complaints she's received about dog owners walking their dogs in the cemetery, letting them defecate on or near grave sites, and not bagging the waste and properly disposing of it. Large city mowers not being able to do the "detail" work and as a result, high weeds are growing around light poles around town was also mentioned, and triggered a mention that the city does not have a anyone with an applicator's license on staff.

    But it was At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud's complaint about the "huge, three-foot" weeds growing on the new levees in Sampson's and Jerome's additions that spurred the biggest reaction. In the end, Interim City Administrator Pat Kelly and Community Development Director Mike MacDonald stressed, the lack of rain this summer made for a terrible growing season for new grass seed, which was planted by the contractor as part of the flood control project contract. "The only thing that grew was weeds," MacDonald said.

    In accordance with the project contracts, he said the city is not permitted to knock down or kill weeds that grow initially because the "cover crop" is needed in order to stabilize the soil for grass growth. But with such a poor growing season this year, MacDonald said in the coming weeks the weeds will be whacked down and the contractor will tear up the soil and reseed with a dormant variety of grass seed.

    Recalling the flood control project years ago in the Woods Addition, Melbye said it takes a lot of patience as the weeds slowly give way to grass. "It looks pretty good there now," he said.

    While he understood the project requirements, Quanrud said the city can't "send letters" to people about not maintaining their properties if the city isn't going to maintain its property. "I don't see how we can sit here and tell people to do something that we don't do," he said.

    Mayor Dave Genereux made a point to compliment the Beautification Committee and other volunteers who keep Crookston beautiful. He said expanded efforts over the past couple years are definitely being noticed and are appreciated. And Kelly made a point to defend city staff when it comes to maintenance and upkeep as well. "It's not like we have people just hanging around wondering what in the heck to do," he said. "I'm not arguing the points being made, but a lot of things are being taken care of in this town, too; I don't think we should just focus on the negatives. There are a lot of similar issues in other towns, too. I'm not saying that we can't get better, because we will. But these concerns aren't unique to us."

    Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said all city staff members and even council members should share in the responsibility of noticing areas that are in need of attention.     "We can't go around with blinders on," he said.

    Part of the problem, Melbye added, is that "We see it all the time, so after a while maybe we're not really seeing it. But people coming through town, tall grass and weeds are probably the first thing they notice."

    As for the complaints about dog waste in the cemetery, council members noted the two new bag receptacles recently placed by Groveland Avenue and Golf Terrace, and it was suggested that maybe the Crookston Police Department send out a news release reminding dog owners to be responsible. Kelly and Police Chief Tim Motherway agreed that such a release would be futile.

    “Responsible people do what they’re supposed to do, irresponsible people don’t,” Kelly said.

    “We have a lot of pets in this town and a lot of responsible pet owners,” Motherway added. “But there are irresponsible pet owners, too, and there always will be.”