Sod or seed? Council wrestles with how to finish street projects

The reconstruction of various Watertown streets is nearly complete, but the city council wrestled with an unanticipated question regarding the completion of those projects during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

As part of the project, portions of some residents’ front yards had to be torn up in order to reconstruct the streets. Residents had been informed that sod would be laid at the conclusion of the project, but the contractor recently told the city’s engineer, Bolton and Menk, that local and regional sod fields are not currently supplying sod because the weather conditions have been too dry.

“From what I understand, the sod companies have it for their own use when they’re doing installations, but they’re not willing to sell it to outside companies because they want that inventory for themselves,” Bolton and Menk’s Andrew Budde told the council.
That news left the council in an interesting predicament, as home
owners had already been promised sod this fall. Instead, the council wres-tled with two options: wait until spring to place sod, or eliminate sod and instead seed the areas with grass this fall.

Neither option received a favorable reception from the council. If seed were planted, Budde told the council it would ultimately lead to a more resilient turf than sod, but could take as long as 2 years to fully establish, and residents had been promised lush, green sod this fall. The council was concerned that instead, residents would have a mud bath in their front yard for years, until the grass fully grew in.
However, the option of waiting until spring for sod wasn’t any more appealing for the council. Hydro mulch — essentially hay — would be placed over the topsoil this fall until sod could be planted in the spring, but would still likely result in messy conditions and a long delay for homeowners.

Instead, the council unanimously directed Bolton and Menk and the contractor for the project to exhaust all options in trying to find sod this fall. It wasn’t clear what type of radius the contractor had explored in trying to find available sod, or if the contractor had explored the possibility of paying a premium price for what ultimately is a fairly small amount sod that will be needed (500 square yards).

Budde informed the council that the 500 square yards of sod that is needed is actually only about half of what was budgeted for in the initial project (1,000 square feet), because the contractor did a good job of limiting damage to yards. With that knowledge, the council authorized spending up to the initially-budgeted amount to secure the 500 square feet, if at all possible.

“When we’re talking about somebody’s front yard, I think we should do whatever we can, even if it costs a little more,” councilor Michael Walters said.

In other business:
• The council recognized the members of Watertown’s Planning Commission in observance of Community Planning Month in October, as proclaimed by Governor Mark Dayton. The Planning Commission works to review, recommend proposals, plans and projects to the city council. Commission members include Andrew Gillett, member since 2006 and current Vice Chair; Donald Hendricks, member since 2007; James Rivord, member since 2006 and current Chair; Howard Reinhard, member since 1011; Jim Sandquist, member since 2009; Steve Washburn, member since 2012; Rob Wilkening, member since 2009.

• Heard an update from Utility Superintendent Doug Kammerer on the city’s water system and testing.