Hillsboro City Council Discusses Lake Issues

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The relatively short agenda posted for the April 27 meeting of the Hillsboro City Council meeting was a bit deceptive because the more important items required time for discussion and consideration. 

The Public Hearing Meeting held prior to the regular meeting didn’t require much time, though, as no members of the public came to comment about the lone agenda item – a discussion of advisability of issuing “general obligation bonds for an amount not to exceed $3,000,000.” 

Mayor-elect Don Downs conducted the meeting in the absence of interim mayor Katie Duncan.

Also in the chamber hall were Commissioner Daniel Robbins, the Journal-News reporter, city clerk Cory Davidson; and three representatives of Woodard & Curran. Attending via Zoom were Commissioner Michael Murphy and City Attorney Kit Hantla. 

Downs read the statement requiring public comment; hearing none, he adjourned the hearing at 6:52.

Three major discussions/presentations were on the regular meeting agenda, one presented by members of the Glenn Shoals Lake Club, one presented by Woodard & Curran’s Jennifer Anders, and one by Burback Aquatics, Inc.

The spokesperson for the Lake Club, David Strowmatt, presented observations about the lake’s condition which he has made while kayaking there and a series of questions about the council’s intention for the lake. 

Strowmatt, a resident of Pinnacle Point, had spoken to the council before about erosion concerns; he was joined this time by Lake Club members Eric Bradley and Kendra Wright. All were on the Zoom platform.

He began with the erosion problem, stating he feels the city needs short term and long term plans to deal with the issue. Downs and Robbins referenced a Greenville College/University study of the lake that found the problem to be more sedimentation than erosion; they will send Strowmatt copies of the study.

Strowmatt also asked if the city has plans for maintaining existing structures at Glenn Shoals, including the boat docks, the restaurant, the marina, and the kayak launch. He cited the presence of wasps and nest-building birds that need attention now.

In his opinion some of the leased camping lots were left in an undesirable state after the close of the camping season last fall, mentioning chairs left half in and half out of the water as an example. He wanted clarification as to whose job it is to enforce regulations already on the books.

He reminded the council that at one time half the proceeds from sale of water to the coal mine were to go into the Lake Improvement Fund; in 2011 the council deleted that requirement from the agreement, diverting the money into the Water Fund. Lake Club members feel that decision was short-sighted. Despite the touchy subject matter, the discussion was civil – more fact-finding than accusatory.

Strowmatt will e-mail the questions to the council, per their request; one of his last questions was answered on the spot. During a past meeting, Strowmatt had asked about the availability of rock and fabric to homeowners who want to erosion-proof their own property. Both Robbins and Downs said each property would be given 30 tons of riprap upon request; he/she would be responsible for costs for anything over 30 ton. Woodard & Curran’s Tim Ferguson and Downs plan a trip to Otter Lake in Macoupin County to see about costs for barge rental to move riprap to job sites. Bradley asked if there were plans to control runoff. Wright commented that because Glenn Shoals is a big asset to the city, Hillsboro should make it a priority on the to-do list.

Strowmatt concluded by saying, “The lake needs help from the city,” then thanked the council for listening.

After the discussion Robbins moved to approve placing money in the Lake Improvement Fund, and Downs seconded the motion. Robbins suggested restoring the original 50%-50% from sales to the coal mine agreement, but Hantla said that would take a specific resolution, which he needs time to prepare. Downs and Murphy both said they’d prefer to have figures in front of them, and Hantla recommended studying the matter to see how much the mine buys per month and then setting an amount rather than a percentage. The resolution may be ready for the May 11 meeting.

Also appearing via Zoom were the representatives of Burback Aquatics, Inc. That firm visited Hillsboro last November at council request to evaluate the condition of the pool in Central Park. The current pool is 83 years old, leaks water, and, according to the report, is “...at the end of its useful life.” Complicating that dilemma is the structures’ failure to meet Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance since the swimming pool, wading pool and bath house were constructed before the ADA was passed.

Primary spokesperson Austin Nolden spent 20 minutes covering the 67 page report. He gave the city two options - repairs that will extend present pool life for five years at a cost of 1.9 million dollars or rebuild the complex for an estimated 4.4 million dollars.

Among the problems with the main pool are old piping, concrete that failed stress tests in “multiple locations,” deterioration of construction joints, poor water circulation, and backwash water management.

The wading (kiddie) pool is non-compliant with code for several reasons, including access. The bath house is far short of Illinois Department of Health facilities requirements.

Nolden complimented Park Superintendent Jim May for the help he provided as Burback people toured the location; May via Zoom told the council that Hillsboro is not yet in panic mode because although the pool has several compliance issues, it has not been cited for any of them.

Regarding the treatment plant, Ms. Anders presented a contract required by the USDA, the source of a loan to be sought on the city’s behalf. The loan would be administered by the State of Illinois. The public hearing scheduled before the regular meeting was mandated before the contract she presented could be approved because the city has to have proof of adequate design funds before the USDA loan application could be filed.

The three million the bond will provide makes the city eligible for the loan to cover the rest of the cost for a waste water (sewer) plant, estimated to be $30 million. The loan will be for 40 years at 1.25% interest, and Anders said grants are possible.

The current plant has limited capacity and the state has mandated changes; the most economical way for the city to go seemed to be approving the engineering agreement with Woodard & Curran for the design phase of a new treatment plant. The motion passed 3-0.

The rest of the meeting involved the sale of real estate. First the council approved advertising for sale two lots along City Lake Road across from the street shed. Those who bid must commit to developing the lots for housing, with the build to start within six months and with plans submitted with the bid(s). Approval to those terms were given. 

Lot #13 in the Hillsboro Cottage Subdivision drew three bids; John Unger’s bid of $10,001 was the highest and was accepted; the other bids were for $7,613 and $4,000. Lot #14 drew only one bid, from Josy Bartello and Shane White, for $4,500; it too was accepted.

Robbins began the Commissioners’ Report segment by saying mowing continues in the parks; the pool is being readied for painting in hopes it can open this summer; work (and games) continue at the Sports Complex, and flags were installed on the downtown light poles. The Street Department did usual springtime tasks and poured 140 feet of sidewalk on Beal Street.

Murphy said Mike Lee is focusing on clean-up issues in the Big Four area of town. The commissioner asks that each home owner regard his house as a billboard showing off the beauty inherent in the town. Reacting to CDC changes regarding mask requirements outdoors for those who have been vaccinated, Murphy said the city will consider renting outdoor facilities, but indoor spaces will remain closed until the CDC recommends otherwise. Entrance to city hall remains limited to two masked visitors at a time to protect the staff. The same standard is in use at the fire house.

Downs said the problem with people flushing sanitary wipes (which aren’t flushable) still plagues the town’s sewer pumps and system as it has since the beginning of the pandemic. The problem isn’t baby wipes as much as it is wipes used to clean counters, etc. He asks townspeople to dispose of them in the garbage instead of the toilet.

He thanked Barb and Larry Hewitt for spearheading a “Beautify the Plaza” movement for Imagaine Hillsboro. “It takes people who want to make this town better for it to happen,” he said. In that vein, he reminded citizens that dumpsters for unwanted items will be available at the city shed along City Lake Road from Tuesday, May 4, through Saturday, May 8; that’s next week.

Community Planner Jonathan Weyer said the Red Rooster should open its hotel space by late summer with the distillery to open soon thereafter. He hopes that will add significantly to Hillsboro’s weekend tourism economy. Weyer also said he is taking course work on-line from the University of Georgia to learn more about grant writing from June 14 through the 18th.

The council next meets on Tuesday, May 11, at 7 p.m. Those wishing to attend in person should call first to check on mask requirements and admittance rules.

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