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Drainage problems turn Hastings park to swamp, residents say

Standing water in Conzemius Park has led to some concerns and complaints on the part of neighborhood residents. Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx

Last Monday evening, news came to the Hastings City Council that there was a major problem with one of the city parks.

Last year, crews spent the summer in Conzemius Park, repairing the ravine area and parts of the park itself to address flooded streets and homes in the area during heavy rainfall events.

The work involved drainage improvements, soil stabilization and some excavation and grading, and cost about $700,000.

Residents say the streets and houses don’t flood anymore, but there’s another problem. Water drains into the park, but it’s not draining out.

“The water never goes away … it’s a swamp now,” said Kevin Burke, who lives near the park and brought the issue to the council Monday.

“It was never supposed to be that way. It was just supposed to fill in and then drain out. But it never drains.”

Another resident, Deborah Nelson, said that regular park maintenance is also lacking, with sections left conspicuously unmown and mesh on the ground that’s pulling up and causing people to trip.

“It’s a mess,” she said.

On hot nights, the area even smells like a swamp, she added.

Burke was concerned about children playing in the park unattended who might start playing around the swings but then start playing in the standing water.

The canal on the south side of the park is also a hazard, he said. There, water is normally about two feet deep, he said, but with all the water there now it can be as much as four feet.

All the extra water has led to another concern for residents. Insect populations have increased, especially mosquitos.

And a berm that was constructed around the park has proved to be an obstacle for elderly people, Burke said. The berm runs along the northeast and south sides of the park.

The residents’ concerns made an impact on city council members. Although the city does have some parks and areas that are designed to hold standing water in certain neighborhoods for a time, Conzemius Park isn’t one of them, said Mayor Paul Hicks.

“So if we’re having that problem, we’re going to have to address it some way,” he said.

Councilmember Ed Riveness put the responsibility of fixing the problem squarely on the city.

“If this is a city-made problem, there must be a city-made answer to it,” he said.

When the work was being done, he said, the prime focus was keeping water out of the streets and out of homes. Until Monday, he had thought the issue was fixed, because he hadn’t heard any other complaints, he said, but the evidence brought to the council Monday quickly proved otherwise.

“When we see a picture of somebody kayaking (in the park) … I don’t think that’s one of the things that was supposed to happen in Conzemius Park,” Hicks said.

The council’s answer was to start a process that will hopefully lead to a satisfactory resolution. The council Operations Committee will have a meeting scheduled within the next week and a half or so, Hicks said, and an action plan will develop from there. Residents will be invited to the meeting to voice their concerns and discuss a solution.

City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee said she will contact city staff to work out any possible immediate actions. She also said she will contact the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District to make sure that mosquito control in the area will be done.