LCCD to sell off land for Hwy. 61 project

(Editor’s Note: Story corrected to reflect only .79 acres of land sold, not 7.9 acres and the sale was not discussed in closed session as reported. The Pen City Current apologizes those errors.)

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – A slip ramp the Iowa Department of Transportation is building to allow easier access to Hwy. 61 for Siemens wind blades, will require purchasing some land from the county.

The property is part of the Lee County Conservation District’s Trumpeter Marsh habitat across the conservation center at Heron Bend. A public hearing on the matter has been set for July 7, at the next regular Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

LCCD Director Nathan Unsworth said the project has been in the works for a while and he’s had numerous conversations with DOT officials.

“One component for this to happen was for the DOT to acquire .79 acres at the Trumpeter Marsh area that we own. It was donated by local conservation groups to the board,” he said.

The Lee County Conservation Board discussed the item last week and has recommended that the sale be considered.

“They see this as a public safety issue for the county, as we have wind blades pulling onto the highway and blocking traffic,” Unsworth said.

“Obviously this was a tough call for the board and they don’t like to be put in those situations, but they did recommend it.”

The DOT is offering $5,300 for the acreage and another $2,800 for a fence that will need to be relocated to help protect the swans that are being reintroduced to the state.

Supervisor Matt Pflug said the DOT would have the right at some point to just take the land if they need it.

County Engineer Ben Hull said that was a possibility.

“The DOT certainly can take the land, but they do have a process they have to follow and environmental reviews are a part of it. They do those reviews to assess the impact to conservation ground they are taking,” he said.

“They don’t just get to take that without justifying it. They feel the need to do that for public safety, and I would say they are justified here.”

Unsworth said there were concerns shared from the public as well as Pheasants Forever.

“The price is fair and it allows us to move the fence to keep the swans on the property as part of the reintroduction,” he said.

Supervisor Rich Harlow said the ramp was a good idea.

“I go by there regularly and it’s definitely as safety hazard. I’ve seen road rage there at those times,” he said.

Fedler said it was tough decision for the board.

“They had to balance conservation with safety and it was a very good decision in order to make sure this is safer for people traveling 61,” Fedler said.

Unsworth said the funds will be used to address the fencing issue right away and then the rest will go into the conservation trust fund for additional projects around the county.

The slip ramp will be a southbound turning lane on the west side to allow room for Siemens-Games wind blade haulers to have easier access to the highway from the facility, without blocking oncoming southbound traffic.

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