After making it through a challenging 2020, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson is eager to begin a new year with a new set of goals.
While Everson has been focusing on guiding the city through the pandemic over the past year, he remains committed to working on some of the major city projects that he helped put in motion during his first term. Atop the list of his goals includes making progress on the wetland along Firesteel Creek, improving Lake Mitchell and rejuvenating a stagnant Main Street.
“We’re going to continue working on Lake Mitchell improvements, and we are very excited and optimistic of the progress we have made on it with the wetland on the Kelley property,” Everson said. “I’m also hoping to work on getting Main Street rejuvenated and work with everyone to get some new developments in downtown Mitchell. We need to help small businesses more than ever right now as well, and that is what makes our Main Street go.”
When Everson took office in July 2018, several buildings in downtown Mitchell that had been corroding through the years became Main Street eyesores. After an ongoing court battle between the city and the former property owner of the 301 N. Main St. building which had a gaping hole on the side that caused a street closure, the city reached a deal to demolish the aging structure in the fall of 2020.
As the large lot now sits empty, Everson said he hopes to work with the Mitchell Area Development Corporation -- which currently owns the property -- to get the lot redeveloped. The city is also in a federal court lawsuit over the former Crafty Fox building and its former owners at 223 N. Main St.
“Despite the Third and Main building issues, there have been a number of downtown property owners making great improvements to their buildings. I hope that will also help attract a good development to materialize at Third and Main in the near future,” Everson said. “We have seen some new businesses make Main Street their home, and we are working to keep that momentum going.”
Addressing Lake Mitchell's algae woes will continue to be a top priority, the mayor said. A vital part of the lake improvement efforts that Everson said he's going to focus on is the wetland project along Firesteel Creek where the city is working to create a wetland and dam aimed at improving the water quality of the lake. With the design phase of the wetland now in motion, Everson said the project is moving to begin construction this summer.
In conjunction with the wetland, Everson said he’s focused on exploring the “best dredging options” for the lake itself to close out his first term in June 2021.
“The wetland is very critical for addressing the lake water issues we’ve had for many years, as it will greatly reduce the source of the phosphorus flowing into the lake from Firesteel Creek. You have to try and stop what is causing the algae problems upstream, but you also have to do the same in the lake itself, which is why we have been seeking dredging proposals for the lake as well,” Everson said. “We have some great momentum going on with the lake improvements, and it’s great that we have secured more funding partners for the wetland, which will immensely ease the taxpayer burden.”
Everson's work to improve Lake Mitchell has been met with strong support from members of the Mitchell City Council. Council member Jeff Smith is one of the city officials who has been proud of the work that Everson has accomplished for the lake, especially the wetland project. Smith called the wetland idea "bold," which took a $4.1 million land purchase from the city to make it happen, and said it was the type of project that the lake has needed for several decades.
“The lake work has been huge, and the Firesteel watershed is massive and much larger than the lake. You have to take care of the water coming into the lake before you take care of the lake itself, and we are tackling that plan now, thanks in large part to the leadership of the mayor, who has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes lately,” Smith said. “It was a gutsy decision to back the purchase of the Kelley land, and Bob (Everson) has done a great job at getting important groups involved to help fund it."
Overcoming major challenges
In his first term as the city’s top elected official, Everson has been faced with plenty of challenges. From COVID-19 to the historic September 2019 flooding in the city, Everson said some of the challenges have provided him with an opportunity to learn.
He said remaining calm and helping provide community members with the necessary resources in the midst of a crisis is easier said than done, but that’s one of the most important lessons he’s learned from the pandemic and 2019 flood.
“It’s been an interesting 2020, and I hope it’s not quite as interesting in 2021,” Everson said. “I learned how important it was to make yourself available as much as you possibly can during major events like the flood and pandemic. It’s my job as an elected leader to serve everyone in the community, especially during tough times. But communicating is the only way to do that.”
Given the magnitude of the challenges the city has come up against in the past two years, Council member Marty Barington said Everson has handled them well.
Although Mitchell’s COVID-19 cases have steadily declined over the past three months, Everson said the vaccine rollout that has been underway in the city since late December is a promising sign that the worst may be over. However, he said that doesn’t mean he’s letting his guard down.
“I think we all went through some tough times during the pandemic, but it’s my goal to minimize that,” he said.
With an eye on the June election, Everson confirmed he’s eyeing a run for a second mayoral term. Considering the process that goes into some of the city projects Everson spearheaded like the wetland, he said re-election would help him see the major projects through to the end.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into the wetland and the lake, so it would be great to have the opportunity to help complete the project,” Everson said.