Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hancock Council to consider Fair Board request for fence removal at May 25 meeting

By Michele Bourdieu

A request by the Houghton County Fair Board for removal of the ivy-covered fence at left, near Hancock's Driving Park ball fields, in order to expand this space for the Houghton County Fair midway, will be discussed and possibly voted on during the Hancock City Council's Special Meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 25. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- The Houghton County Fair Association Board would like to remove the large, ivy-covered exterior fence on the east side of the southern-most Hancock baseball field (in the Driving Park) in order to increase the size of the Fair midway and to shift the location of the amusement rides farther south for safety reasons.

Removal of the fence (visible in the background here) would allow County Fair rides to be shifted farther south and away from the horse barn and arena. The Fair Board has received complaints about the proximity of the rides to the equine exhibits (which are not far from where this photo was taken). Click on photos for larger versions. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

This issue will be discussed at a special meeting of the Hancock City Council at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25. The meeting, which is also a scheduled City Council budget work session, is open to the public and to public comments.*

County Fair Board Association Board members Richard Freeman, president, and Steve Palosaari, Treasurer, made a presentation at the regular Hancock City Council meeting last Wednesday, May 18, concerning four requests from the Fair Board to the City. Request No. 2 -- removal of the fence -- was the only one not approved by the Council on May 18. Three of the Fair Board requests were approved as follows:

Request 1: Removal and burial of the overhead electric wires running north of the Hockey arena to the Maasto Hiihto Chalet and west to the end of the baseball field. The $10,000-plus cost to have UPPCO remove and bury the wires underground is to be paid by the Fair Association. This will provide a safer environment for the amusement rides.

On May 18, the City Council approved removing and burying the overhead electric wires, visible here at left, above the ivy-covered fence that is still a point of discussion. The poles with lights on them would remain. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Request 3: Install underground water and electrical lines along the North end of the first baseball field for various vendors. The benefit will be additional space for vendors and fair volunteers and will provide the use of these services for other events, such as the Frisbee tournament.

Request 4: Installation of a 16- to 20-foot gate on the west side of the baseball fields. A second exit is needed in emergency preparedness plans to allow safe exit of Fair visitors in case the eastern exit becomes impassable.

According to Hancock City Clerk Karen Haischer, "There's no cost to the City (for any of these changes)."

Freeman confirmed the Fair Board would cover the costs.

"All this is being done at our expense, and it'll be professionally done by contractors," he said.

Freeman said removal of the fence according to Request No. 2 would open up the midway area by making it possible to move the vendors back.

"What we're finding, as more people attend the Fair, is that it's becoming congested in the midway, especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon for the main events," Freeman explained.

This photo shows a large crowd gathered for one of the main events in the "bowl." Fair Board members believe removal of the fence in the background would make more room in the midway, especially at peak crowd times. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

He noted the expansion of the midway would also provide the area with extra parking space for sports events that attract large crowds and, in winter, more room to push the snow back.

"We estimate 5000-6000 people in close proximity in the midway and the bowl (spectator area for main outdoor Fair events)," Freeman added.

While some of the Fair area is Houghton County property, the City of Hancock owns the property where the fence is located.

"We're allowed complete control of our Fair area during the event," Freeman said. "We rent the Arena from the Arena Board, and the City allows us use of the rest of the grounds."

Freeman said the Fair Board has been talking to City Manager Glenn Anderson for several months about these issues, but the May 18 meeting was the first opportunity their schedules allowed them to present it to the City Council.

City Councilor John Slivon, who represents Ward III, including the park and Fair area -- while he was not opposed to the three requests approved by the Council (burial of electric wires, installation of underground water and electric lines and installation of a second exit gate) -- expressed concern about the timing of the Fair Board's request for the fence removal, with so little time for the Council to consider it.

City Councilor John Slivon rides his bike along the ivy-covered fence that separates the Hancock ball fields from area used for the County Fair midway. Slivon measured the height of the fence to be 88 inches (about seven feet) and estimated its length to be about 300 feet. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"It (the fence) belongs to the citizens of Hancock," Slivon said. "Down the road, if the City Council finds they made a mistake by letting the Fair Board take it down, the City's not going to be able to afford to replace it."

Slivon noted gates in the fence were not closed as they used to be when he first moved to Hancock several years ago.

Despite a sign saying "No dogs, No bikes," this gate in the tall fence allows entry for both, affording no protection to the ball fields, which are surrounded by a smaller fence with open gates. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"The fence, if its gates were closed, might reduce dogs' access to the ball field. People are saying that's a problem," he said.

Despite Hancock's recent ordinance requiring people to clean up after their dogs in the City of Hancock or pay a fine of up to $100, evidence that they are not doing so is apparent, even on sidewalks downtown. While there is a second fence around the ball fields, the gates are left open.**

This gate on the inside fence around the ball fields has been left open. Residents are expected to obey the "No Dogs" sign. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Slivon, who is a member of the City of Hancock Recreation Commission, said the Recreation Commission was opposed to removal of the fence.

This gate in the tall fence is locked to keep out vehicle traffic. Should the fence be removed, the area next to the ball fields would be vulnerable to vehicle entry and, in fact, might be used for parking for future sports events. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

City Councilor John Haeussler, also noted the Recreation Commission (of which he is a member) recommended to the Council that the request to remove the fence be denied. Haeussler was opposed to removal of the fence for several reasons, which he explained in an email to Keweenaw Now.

"As a parent I appreciate the safety provided by the exterior fence at the Driving Park," he writes. "It allows families to be at the park and separated from vehicle traffic. It also provides an additional barrier to unwanted vehicle traffic (autos, ATVs, etc.) on the playing fields."

City Councilor John Haeussler notes the tall fence serves as a barrier to protect families at the ball park and to keep vehicles off the playing fields. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The Fair Board's request says, "The bleacher area around the baseball field would remain in grass and individual poles or ground barriers could be used to maintain as a non-auto parking area. Trees and shrubs could be planted to promote our goal to make our complete grounds more like a park area."

Haeussler said he agreed that removal of the fence would benefit the Fair by increasing their available midway space.

"As a Council member I wish to assist the Fair Board, but I cannot support their request to remove the fence without first receiving feedback from other users of the Driving Park," Haeussler said. "I invite all members of our community to share their thoughts with a Council member or at the next Council meeting on Wednesday, May 25, at 6 p.m. We intend to make a decision on this issue that evening."

Haeussler noted also that the written request by the Fair Board states, "The current baseball field would be secured with additional fence, individual poles and gates."

Haeussler added, "I hope to learn more details about this at the upcoming meeting.* It may provide a compromise that will be favorable to all parties."

Editor's Notes:

* Click here for the agenda of the May 25 Special Meeting and Budget Work Session.

** Click here for City of Hancock Ordinance 91.06, "Dog restraint and cleanliness" and click here for Ordinance 91.99 under (D) for the penalty for violation.

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