Drone proposal dies, but may have life yet

David Phillips

The Spring Valley City Council failed to act on a request from the Spring Valley Fire Department for a drone, which came up at a regular meeting of the council Monday, Aug. 26.

The drone, which had a cost of $23,393, would have been used to aid in firefighting as well as search and rescue. The department has the funds available to cover the cost from charitable donations it has received.

After a lengthy discussion, a motion to approve the purchase failed to get a second, so the council took no vote and the motion died. Although the Fire Department had the funds raised through donations, the city must give approval for expenditures greater than $2,000 because the state requires the council to oversee its funds for auditing purposes.

However, the drone proposal isn’t dead. Several days after the meeting, city administrator Deb Zimmer said the department requested the item be put on the agenda for the next meeting, which is Sept. 9.

In discussion prior to the vote at last week’s meeting, Fire Chief Brian Danielson said the drone has dual cameras, which can be “used both on fires looking for hot spots in structures as well as search and rescue so we can locate someone who has wandered off or if someone is missing.” Local firefighters had contacted other departments that have used drones, with one nearby department saying it had used its drone for six incidents in the three years since it was purchased.

“We think the need is there in that it is a tool that will benefit us and we have some significant donations,” Danielson told the council. “I want to use some of that money to buy one large object, rather than splitting it up to use here and there.”

Councilor Luan Ruesink asked if the purchase was voted on and approved by the department, and Danielson said yes.

When Councilor Mike Hadland asked if the vote was unanimous, Danielson reported that the vote was 8-6 with three members abstaining. There are 25 firefighters in the department.

In response to a question by Reusink if there is someone currently trained to use it, Danielson replied that one person is applying for a license and another member who is a pilot is working through a different process for licensure. He would like to eventually see a team of five people assigned to this task.

Hadland had questions about the duration as electronics have such a short lifespan. He noted that Olmsted County upgraded its drone and got very little on a trade-in.

Danielson said the drone is set up so it is easy to replace the cameras, which is the most important component of the system. However, when Councilor John Dols asked about the cost of the cameras, he was told the actual drone was only about $4,500 with the rest of the costs being cameras.

When Hadland asked if cheaper options were considered, Danielson said this one is tailored to use by fire departments. The councilor also asked about the closest departments using one with Danielson replying Riceville and Decorah in Iowa along with Olmsted County, although not the Rochester Fire Department.

After the discussion, Councilor Chris Danielson said she would make the motion for approval of the purchase since the department has the money to cover the cost. When the mayor called for a second, there was a lengthy silence and he declared the motion dead before moving on to another item.

Dangerous intersection

In the visitors’ portion of the meeting, Ken Cleveland asked the council about getting something done at the intersection of Highways 16 and 63 by the Dairy Queen to make it safer.

“I got the opportunity last Thursday night to watch my son in an accident because a pickup pulled out from the stop sign right in front of him,” Cleveland said. “Something needs to be done there.”

He said he would like to see a stoplight, but suggested the city conduct a survey to see how other people feel because there have been countless accidents and close calls there.

Mayor Tony Archer pointed out that the intersection of two state highways is controlled by the state and “we have no jurisdiction over that.” He recommended Cleveland contact state legislators. Even though that has been a problem for years, there is nothing the city can do about it, he explained.

Cleveland said he had already contacted his state senator and representative about his concerns.

“Duly noted and hopefully you can get somewhere with it,” Archer said. “It’s unfortunate things like that happen.”

Lot split

Local resident Jim Parker asked the council for permission to split a commercial lot he owns. The parcel has a veterinary clinic on one side and a single-family home, which Parker intends to sell, on the other side.

City administrator Deb Zimmer explained that the lot is zoned highway commercial, even though a residence is on it. Residential lots require a minimum size, which the split lot wouldn’t meet, but the zoning would remain commercial, Zimmer explained. If something happened to the house, such as a fire, the commercial zoning would prevent rebuilding of a residential unit.

Fillmore County officials told Parker it was OK to split the lot, but he would need permission from the city first. Parker would need to take care of all the responsibilities for splitting the parcel.

Department reports

• In department head reports, library director Jenny Simon reported that the quilt show at the library during Ag Days had very high attendance. Also, the annual monarch display is bringing in a lot of people, even some from out of town who made a point to see it. The Library Board is holding off on doing anything with the library exterior, which has some cosmetic problems, until it can understand exactly what needs to be done. Also, she told the council she applied for some fall programs, including one on genealogy.

• Parks and Recreation director John Fenske said the pool is drained and winterized. Summer rec is done, but youth football has started and volleyball was to start once school is in session. He also told the council Ag Days went well as his phone didn’t ring at all.

• Chad Hindt said the streets department has been sweeping streets, painting lines on streets, mowing, trimming trees in the parks, hauling rock and trying to get the city looking good before Ag Days. Fenske helped the department with mowing.

• Wastewater treatment plant operator Aaron Hamersma reported that it has been a quiet month as flows are down to what he considers normal.

• Ambulance co-director Sue Puffer said the service continues to be busy with 35 calls so far in August with three times when both units were out. She hopes to get an emergency medical responder class started in the next week, which may bring another member to the department. She mentioned that Fenske and Mike Lee covered some of the “hard-to-cover hours during the day” recently.

• Fire Chief Danielson said it has been fairly quiet, although there was one call over the Ag Days weekend. The department’s chicken barbecue during Ag Days went well, he added.

• Police coordinator Jessy Betts said it has been busy for the county and local officers over the past month. Local officers had the opportunity to participate in an active threat training program involving the FBI in Rushford.

Other business

• A resolution expressing appreciation to VFW Post 4114 for a donation of $5,000 toward the cost of an electronic message sign at the site of the former tourist information center was approved by the council. This is in addition to the donations previously received, meaning the city won’t need to transfer as much money from the cable access fund that was approved at the previous meeting to cover the costs of the sign.

• In the mayor’s report, Archer said, “I think we had a really successful Ag Days and I appreciate all the groups out there that were helping out and making it possible” and “it seemed like we had a really good turnout this year and a lot of things for the kids, too.” He thanked everyone and said he is looking forward to next year’s celebration.