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Wessington Springs Main Street project to start this month

WESSINGTON SPRINGS--As an infrastructure improvement project on Wessington Springs' Main Street nears its start date, some business owners are concerned about what the construction will mean for their businesses.

The Wessington Springs Main Street infrastructure project is slated to begin by the end of June and be finished by October 7. The project looks to improve three blocks of the street by implementing new water and sewer systems underground, a new road, sidewalk and lighting. Additionally, the project will add handicap/wheelchair access to each business, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
The Wessington Springs Main Street infrastructure project is slated to begin by the end of June and be finished by October 7. The project looks to improve three blocks of the street by implementing new water and sewer systems underground, a new road, sidewalk and lighting. Additionally, the project will add handicap/wheelchair access to each business, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS-As an infrastructure improvement project on Wessington Springs' Main Street nears its start date, some business owners are concerned about what the construction will mean for their businesses.

On May 23, the Wessington Springs City Council met in a special session to approve a contracting bid of $1,383,965.05 from Menning Backhoe LLC, of Mitchell. Menning beat out competitors Olsen Construction, of Huron, and BX Civil & Construction Inc., of Dell Rapids, who bid slightly higher at $1,488,203.35 and $1,460,981.20, respectively.

The infrastructure project looks to improve three blocks of the street by implementing new water and sewer systems underground, a new road, sidewalk and lighting. Additionally, the project will add handicap/wheelchair access to each business, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With a contractor selected and funding in place, Mayor Melissa Mebius said the project is expected to begin by the end of June and conclude by October 7.

But for Heather Larson, owner of Sweet Grass, a shop and bakery on Main Street, the timing isn't ideal. Larson said the city told her construction would start as soon as the weather was nice enough, but Larson believes the project should have started as early as March if that was the case.

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"They got going really late, and now we're going from a busy time to a busier time," Larson said. "Now I'm kind of disappointed that they didn't get their act together and get it going early in the spring like they had said they were going to do ... It would have been the slow time of the year, and it would have been done by now."

Her frustration stems from an ultimatum presented by the city and what she feels was an inability to give input as a business owner as the project progressed.

Businesses without a secondary access door will be forced to close for approximately one week or find the funds to create a second entrance. The construction will uproot the street and sidewalk in front of each business located on the three-block section of Main Street between Dakota Avenue and Blowers Avenue.

Because summer and early fall are the busiest seasons for Sweet Grass, Larson is considering spending $4,000 to implement a second door so her business can remain open during construction, but because Sweet Grass is only in its third year of business, Larson said finding money in her budget for the door might not be feasible.

"We're a new business, so we're still working out of our start-up stages," Larson said. "It was something I was looking at doing, but maybe not right now. I was going to shut down that whole week, because it really wasn't going to pay off to put in that door, but now that they're going into October, when we're busier, I might have to reconsider."

To ease tensions, the city plans to hold weekly meetings with city officials, contractors and business owners to ensure everyone remains on the same page as far as schedules are concerned.

Regardless of her professional struggle, Larson thinks the project will benefit the city's overall appearance, which she thinks is important.

"I don't know if it'll bring me any more business in the long run, but it needs to be done," Larson said. "The street obviously isn't the best, and it's good to take those steps to improve."

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Funding

According to officials, 206 residents voted in favor of the project in a September public vote, while 32 voted against it. The purpose of the public vote, Mebius said, was not only to get the public's input on whether the project should move forward, but also because Wessington Springs was working to keep the funding for the project separate from the debt limit.

To do that, the town must call for a public vote in regards to the funding for the project, rather than move forward through City Council avenues.

Because it was approved by the public in September, money borrowed for the project does not go toward Wessington Springs' debt limit.

According to City Finance Officer Linda Willman, there are five funding sources for the project: A Community Access Grant of $400,000; an SRF loan of $372,600; SRF Principal Forgiveness of $100,000; CDBG of $237,000; and an RD Loan of $735,000.

The $1,844,600 total funding is more than the city anticipates needing for the project, as the bid came in lower than expected. Excess funds will be used to cover unforeseen costs, and if there is funding leftover, Willman said, the city will eventually pay it back.

Mebius said the project has been in the works for several years, even before a tornado leveled part of the town on June 18, 2014, destroying 15 homes, damaging 44 more and displacing at least 77 people.

"I think it's a great accomplishment for the city ... It's just going to change the look of our Main Street and make it more accessible," Mebius said. "Two years ago, it's almost the anniversary of the tornado, it just really shows that Wessington Springs is moving forward and looking toward the future instead of continuing to look back."

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Bonnie Will has been a resident of Jerauld County for 55 years, and for almost as long as she can remember, the Main Street sidewalks have been a hazard for the elderly and anyone not paying attention to their surroundings.

On certain sections of the road that require two steps up from the street to the sidewalk, she has to hang on to nearby light poles for balance, a feat she called "dreadful."

"They've needed these sidewalks fixed for years. If nobody has not ever tripped and fallen, I am so surprised-they need a better walkway," Will said.

Even more disappointing is the town's lost potential due to the dangerous street and sidewalks, Will said. Even on its best days, she rarely sees anybody walking on Main Street, but she hopes the infrastructure project brings a new life to the section of town.

"It will be a nightmare while it's going on, I'm sure," Will said. "But the end result will be wonderful."

The Wessington Springs Main Street infrastructure project is slated to begin by the end of June and be finished by October 7. The project looks to improve three blocks of the street by implementing new water and sewer systems underground, a new road, sidewalk and lighting. Additionally, the project will add handicap/wheelchair access to each business, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
The Wessington Springs Main Street infrastructure project is slated to begin by the end of June and be finished by October 7. The project looks to improve three blocks of the street by implementing new water and sewer systems underground, a new road, sidewalk and lighting. Additionally, the project will add handicap/wheelchair access to each business, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

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