City of Preston welcomes new police chief

MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS LEADER Missy Sass pins the police chief badge onto her husband, Preston Police Chief Blaise Sass, following his swearing in on Monday night. Looking on is Mayor Kurt Reicks.

MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS LEADER Preston Police Chief Blaise Sass, at left, accepts congratulations from retiring chief Matt Schultz following Sass’s swearing in ceremony on Monday
Melissa Vander Plas

Mayor Kurt Reicks swore in new Police Chief Blaise Sass during the Preston City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 5. Sass was hired as chief to fill the vacancy left by Matt Schultz upon his retirement.

After Sass was sworn in, with his wife, Missy, pinning on his new badge during the ceremony, he thanked the mayor and the council for their support. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity and the responsibility of this position,” he said.

Sass also wished Schultz well in his retirement and thanked him for being a great leader and mentor over the 17 years they had worked together serving Preston.

Schultz, in his comments to the council and citizens gathered, said he has enjoyed the time he has worked in the Preston Police Department. “I’ve enjoyed the support of the community, the elected officials, everyone I’ve worked with,” he added.

After bidding farewell to the council, Schultz signed off duty for the final time before departing city hall.

Carimona trail update

City Administrator Joe Hoffman updated the council on the status of the Preston to Carimona bike trail.

This project has been in the works for 25 to 3o years and efforts have been focused on funding for the segment over the past few years.

Hoffman shared a map of the Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley state trails and showed how the segment from Preston to Carimona would continue west from Preston’s in-town trail.

Land has been purchased and is in the DNR’s possession for this project. The state Legislature has authorized this portion of the trail.

Hoffman stated the segment has a DNR Tier 1 designation, which means it can be seen as a destination trail and ties together existing assets such as the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail, the Root River State Trail and Forestville State Park, including Historic Forestville.

Former DNR employee Craig Blommer once noted that he felt this segment of trail would be the most scenic part of the Blufflands Trail System.

 As Hoffman reviewed the past work of the city and its bike trail committee, he shared a timeline from securing land options in 1998, with land purchases completed in 2002. The DNR’s trail master plan was completed in 2003 with construction of the first mile of trail and the bridge heading out of Preston completed in 2002-2003.

When complete, the proposed Preston-Forestville State Trail will connect the existing Root River and Harmony-Preston State Trails to Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park.

To date, one mile of trail and two bridges are built. The next phase of the project will complete six miles of trail, connecting Preston to Carimona and includes seven bridges as the trail follows the bank of the South Branch of the Root River and its narrow valley.

Hoffman said the city of Preston has invested over $200,000 on the “in-town” trail that connects the Forestville Trail going west to the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail and Root River Trail systems.

Hoffman explained that the city of Preston has had bills for funding sponsored each of the last three years and in that time frame other area trail projects have been funded, including a segment from Harmony to the Iowa border.

“What’s missing?” he asked.

He noted that successful communities, who succeed in their projects getting funded, have active local trail committees. “We have had a handful of members who have met on and off, some have gone up and testified at the Legislature, but projects that get funded have more established committees, people who show up when they are needed to testify and show support,” Hoffman said. “We need to step up our local efforts.”

He also suggested the council may have to fund some promotional items – such as t-shirts and signs. He noted that when going to the state Legislature, it is easy to see some groups and their connections through their t-shirts. Large groups make large impacts.

Hoffman said the funding request is about $5 million, a lot of which is required to build the necessary bridges.

“This will be very scenic,” Hoffman added. “Our hope is that people will be returning as it will be a very unique segment.”

Hoffman also explained that one of the representatives approached him to get more specific numbers on the project. He suggested requesting $500,000 to get the engineering done, with updated cost estimates, as some members of the funding committees may be concerned that the $5.3 million would not complete the project.

Bike trail committee member Chuck Aug reiterated the need to have the city actively involved in this project and in the lobbying for funding.

“The state is going to spend the money,” Hoffman said. “They are going to build trails in the state of Minnesota, so why can’t it be here? We are going to be asking the community for volunteers to help drive the efforts forward.”

Sidewalk replacement

Public Works Director Jim Bakken came before the council with a list of sidewalks he suggested replacing in 2019.

He proposed replacing the sections of sidewalk near the fire hall, some with cracks and uneven panels.

He also suggested getting rid of small grassy areas in between concrete pads and sidewalks as they are difficult to maintain through the winter without damaging the grass and sod below.

He received quotes from Legends Concrete and four areas he suggested can be completed for under $10,000, which is in the budget.

The council approved his proposal for sidewalk repair and replacement.

Housing development

Andy Bunge provided a brief update on housing development, specifically a lot in which he removed an old home and is now building a new home, with a greater tax value. He encouraged the council and the EDA to consider purchasing lots for redevelopment and paying for the cleanup and lot preparation through increased tax revenue.

“It is a good thing to consider for funds as the city will have a good return on its investment,” he added.