Driveway debate sends Grand Junction council, public into hectic kerfuffle
By Brandon Hurley
A heated, 20-minute debate analyzing overdue driveway repairs highlighted a tense Grand Junction city council meeting June 13.
In all, elected officials resided over a two-and-a-half long meeting detailing a variety of topics.
The most heated debate was in connection to a city-owned portion of a driveway owned by the Gustin family. The parking area of the driveway was torn up by a contracted company to place new drainage tiles, done a few years prior. The family is now seeking restitution for the re-construction of the driveway because of the poor condition it is in.
A representative of the Gustin family said the driveway is now “caved in” due to the construction work and he said the grassy area along the driveway has also not been seeded. The driveway was originally made of brick, dating back 55 years. He said the city’s refusal to replace the driveway has driven his property value down.
Grand Junction council member Paula Hoskinson said the city could not replace the bricks because they cannot afford to, while also stating she believes it’s not the city’s responsibility. She said mayor Gerry Herrick agreed to the replacement project without prior council approval.
“First, we would like to apologize to the Gustin family for any confusion or inconvenience that was caused to you during or after the installation of the drainage tile,” Hoskinson said at Monday’s meeting. “Our mayor misspoke and did not have the legal authorization of the past or present council when he made the promise that he and the code enforcer would replace the brick driveway as it was originally.”
Hoskinson said the city does not have the finances to conduct such a project. She said they could not find any authorization in the council’s records whether mayor Gerry Herrick was approved to say the city would replace the brick driveway.
Herrick said he agreed to have the city replace the driveway because it allowed Grand Junction to award a much cheaper bid for the tile installation, nearly $200,000 less if the construction company wasn’t on the hook for restoring the land. He made the decision as a representative of the city, to go-ahead and restore the driveway after the work was done.
“It’s standard practice to put things back the way they were,” Herrick said during Monday’s meeting.
Hoskinson said replacing the Gustin driveway would set a precedent that could cost the city money.
“If we do one driveway, we will have to do something just as good for the all the other driveways,” she said. “We do not have the funding.”
Hoskinson said bids for replacing the driveway as Herrick requested have come in as low as $4,300 and as high as $11,000. She said she also spoke with the city attorney and found out Grand Junction does not legally have to replace the driveway.
Herrick wouldn’t budge, admitting helping the Gustin family out was the right thing to do in this situation, regardless.
“It’s standard practice when we do something like this,” Herrick said. “If I thought the council was going to reject that for saving that much money, I would’ve never done it.”
Hoskinson aggressively retorted by implying Herrick was in the wrong, no matter his thought process.
“If you would’ve thought the council was going to reject it, you would’ve gotten the council’s approval to begin with,” Hoskinson said with an emphatic pounding of the table. “Instead of just doing it without the council’s approval.
That’s how we get into these problems, and there’s more than one.”
Herrick was flabbergasted by Hoskinson’s response, saying he felt it was a disgrace the council won’t replace the brick and clean up the mess from the tile installation.
“I think it’s a disgrace you said we will do it without council approval,” Hoskinson said in her rebuttal.
Hoskinson said the city has the right to drive through and tear up a driveway for situations such as tile installation because it was done so in the right-of-way.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be fixed, but we don’t have $4,300 to spend on a driveway,” Hoskinson said. “The Emerald Ash Borer is hitting us hard, and the ash trees need to come down now. We are going to be spending a lot of money.”
She said the parking is city property, which means the city does not need to restore it to its original state. In the same vein, though the parking area and that portion of a driveway, while it is city property, the private property owner is required to maintain it.
Herrick said the reason he agreed to initially replace the driveway was because he believed he was carrying out the responsibility agreed upon by a previous mayor. He essentially was practicing good neighborly character by approving the replacement. He felt it was the city’s duty to step up and fix it.
“The tile was a necessity by the DOT of the state of Iowa. The previous mayor signed the paper saying we are responsible, and we were,” Herrick said. “We eliminated all the inflow into the sewer plant.
Hoskinson did not like Herrick’s reply, angered why he felt he could approve this type of project without the council’s consent.
“I understand why you did it Gerry, nobody is questioning why the tile was put through,” Hoskinson said. “What we are questioning is the fact that you promised something without council approval and we are stuck with deciding how we are going to fix this. That’s what the problem is.”
Hoskinson’s response seemed to irk Herrick, as he jumped in with mention of a prior decision from the council.
“Was there council approval when you kicked me out from (cleaning up) the town?” he said.
Hoskinson quickly chimed in with an aggressive response of her own.
“Bring it on Jerry, we will talk about it if you want to,” Hoskinson said while nodding in Herrick’s direction.
As the volume of the room rose, several other council members spoke up nearly in unison to try and put the bickering to a stop, hinting at how the debate was veering off the rails.
A motion was immediately made to take care of the driveway by laying white rock – instead of replacing the brick – in addition to grass seeding before finally removing ruts and leveling the driveway.
Hoskinson, Lora Lyons, Michelle Hillman and Chad Wilson all voted in favor of the motion.
Council member Mark Renslow agreed with Herrick and said he wanted to see the driveway completely replaced, including the brick. He voted against the new plan.
“No one else is going to want their yard torn up by the city to get something fixed,” Renslow said. “It’s common sense and a courtesy of the city of Grand Junction to do that. It’s our obligation to put it back the way it was.”
The motion to lay white rock and level the driveway was passed despite Renslow’s and Herrick’s objection.
ASH TREES RAISE CONCERN
The council also reviewed a bid for ash tree removal in Grand Junction. Hoskinson said the invasive Emerald Ash Borer is wreaking havoc on the local ash tree population.
“This is just the beginning of the removal,” Hoskinson said. “We went around and marked trees that a blind man could see that are dead.”
Some of the trees were marked for instant removal while others were noted to be trimmed down. Hoskinson said the city will need to take down a total of 82 trees, with the city removing 31 on their own and contracting out the remaining 51.
Three trees were found to be close to power lines, which could cause future danger, though Hoskinson said the Municipal Plant would be in charge of funding.
Grand Junction received a bid from a tree service in Boone which charges $150 an hour. Hoskinson recommended the city go with Newer Tree Service instead, a company which had helped Grand Junction previously following the derecho in 2020.
“By fall, we are going to have more (trees that need to come down),” Hoskinson said. “It’s my understanding, once ash trees start to die, (after) a year especially, they start dropping branches and it becomes a real hassle. We don’t (have a lot of time), the dead ones need to come down. They are a liability. We have to start now.”
Newer Tree Service’s bid came in for $18,500, which the council agreed to accept.