The Stillwater city council recently voted to abandon its effort to construct a short section of paved path on the banks of the St. Croix River, sandwiched between the water and the popular deck of the Dock Cafe restaurant. The plan had previously caused controversy for proposing to remove several large trees to make way for the trail. The trees were protected, but the restaurant and city remained at odds over the trail placement.
The city was moving ahead with using its eminent domain powers to purchase an easement from the restaurant when concerns arose about costs and legal issues. Because of the sensitive subject, discussions were restricted to private council sessions.
“In closed session, the City Council has discussed with me the cost risks associated with acquiring easements for the Dock Cafe Segment through eminent domain,” city attorney Pete Mikhail wrote in a memo to the council. “The City Engineer has confirmed that it is feasible in terms of Project construction to delete the Dock Cafe Segment from the Project if Council makes the policy determination that the cost risks outweigh the benefits of including that trail segment.”
In November, the members voted 3-2 to remove the trail section from the project plan. Council members Ryan Collins, Dave Junker, and Mayor Ted Kozlowski voted to halt the eminent domain effort, with council members Larry Oderbrecht and Mike Pohlena voting against it.
“[T]he City Council now finds that the cost risks associated with acquiring easements for the Dock Cafe Segment outweigh the benefits of installing that segment of trail,” the approved resolution reads.
The proposed trail is part of a multi-million dollar riverbank stabilization project designed to harden the shoreline against erosion. A large sanitary sewer pipe runs behind the bank from downtown Stillwater to the wastewater treatment facility in Oak Park Heights, and ensuring it is not exposed and damaged is a project priority.
A wide walkway along the river is also part of the project, providing improved access to the St. Croix Packet Co. boat docks, and offering overlooks of the river. It will run parallel to the bike and pedestrian Loop Trail. The short section that has now been removed would have connected the Stillwater levy with the walkway. The Loop Trail behind the Dock Cafe will now provide a connection to the riverwalk.