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Nisswa: Highway 371 noise wall proposed

Many downtown Nisswa business property owners will soon have the opportunity to vote on whether a 20-foot tall noise wall should be constructed along the east side of Highway 371 through the city.

Many downtown Nisswa business property owners will soon have the opportunity to vote on whether a 20-foot tall noise wall should be constructed along the east side of Highway 371 through the city.

Those businesses will have to weigh the loss of visibility from the highway against the benefit of less noise from traffic.

It is critical that the identified property owners and residents vote; a non-vote will constitute a yes vote, Shawn Hansen, Nisswa chamber president/CEO, said in an email to downtown businesses.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has determined that a noise barrier along the highway from where South Main Street and Highway 371 run parallel to each other (just north of the stoplights) to just south of Nisswa Avenue (near the Nisswa Motel) has met all of the federal criteria to be considered by those who would receive a 5 decibel reduction.

Estimated cost is between $750,000 and $1 million, said Jim Hallgren, MnDOT project manager for the Highway 371 expansion project. MnDOT would pay for the barrier.

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The issue arose in a recent re-evaluation of the environmental documents for the Highway 371 four-lane expansion project from Nisswa to Jenkins that is scheduled to start next year. In previous environmental studies, noise walls weren't deemed cost-effective anywhere along the highway corridor, Hallgren said.

However, the federal rule regarding highway traffic noise abatement changed in recent years, and as the next phase of Highway 371 improvements take place, MnDOT determined a noise barrier through Nisswa would meet all the federal criteria, Hallgren said.

"It's still fluid," he said, but MnDOT is identifying the affected business property owners and residents and will host a public information meeting to explain the voting process that is required. Those business property owners and residents will have 30 days to vote on whether the noise barrier should be constructed.

At least some business owners don't see a need for the noise wall because it would block visibility of downtown Nisswa.

"I disagree with any need for one," said Mike French, who owns Stonehouse Coffee in Nisswa Square with his wife, Julie. "It just totally obscures the view of the town. You block off the view from people going by and you just hurt it (the town)."

As an analogy, French said when his tools are out of sight, he loses them. "I think this will have the same effect."

He also doesn't think the traffic noise will be an issue.

"We have no problem with sound in our building at all," French said.

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Teresa Berg, owner of Martin's Sport Shop, urges business owners to vote no.

"If a wall goes up around downtown Nisswa, we will have no more Nisswa," she said. "Businesses cannot function let alone thrive under the constraints that a wall would inflict."

Berg said a noise wall would affect all downtown Nisswa businesses.

"The most important thing for us is to vote. A non-vote will be counted as a 'yes' vote, so not acting is not an option," she said, voicing concern about business owners who are on vacation this time of year.

"Will they get these notices? If not, their non-vote will be counted as a yes vote," she said.

Jacque Raisanen, who owns Nisswa Motel with her husband, Andrew, also said a noise wall would have a negative impact on downtown Nisswa businesses because it would reduce visibility from Highway 371.

"We don't have a noise problem," she said. "I would say that we here at the motel are likely the only ones who actually live near the highway and have to hear the traffic noise at night, but we still do not need a noise wall more than we need visibility. This is not Interstate 394 in the Twin Cities suburbs. This is Nisswa and we need to be seen by all who pass us by. We live and breathe off of tourism, and we simply cannot have our downtown business area hidden by a noise wall."

Lisa Kaneski, who owns the Nisswa Dairy Queen with her sister, Kathy Martin, echoed other business owners' sentiments.

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"I'm definitely against anything that's going to block more of the view of our downtown Nisswa area," she said. "The noise isn't going to be substantially more than it ever has been. I think our whole economy in that community depends on the traveler, so it's important that the traveler be able to see us. We need to do everything we can to keep our downtown businesses alive."

Hansen of the chamber said, "It is not in the best interest for our community, or for taxpayer dollars to be spent constructing this wall. It would cut downtown Nisswa's visibility from Highway 371. We are a tourist destination and we rely on exposure from the highway."

She also stressed the need for downtown business owners and residents who are notified to vote.

"We are confident that our downtown property owners and tenants will vote no regarding this structure. We are asking our legislators to join us, and put a stop to MnDOT proceeding with any noise walls for Nisswa," Hansen said.

Related Topics: NISSWA
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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