Litchfield appeared ready to enter the still somewhat novel world of electrical vehicles when it approved installation of four charging stations around the city.
The first station went up during the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12/Sibley Avenue this summer, installed on the west side of Central Park. It appeared ready for use as soon as the street was opened.
And then, as the City Council learned Tuesday night, someone essentially tripped over the power cord.
“Some miscommunication and a lot of left-hand, right-hand, non-action led to this installation in a non-permitted location,” City Administrator Dave Cziok wrote in a memo included in the council agenda packet.
His memo was accompanied by a letter from Kelly Brunkhorst, assistant district engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, who wrote that the charging station “must be immediately removed,” because the station was installed without a permit from MnDOT.
Though MnDOT supports charging stations in approved areas “the current location is not acceptable,” Brunkhorst said.
Cziok told the City Council that the station will likely be removed in the next couple of weeks.
State law prohibits commercial enterprises — electric vehicle users would pay to use the charging station — within a trunk highway right of way without a permit.
“MnDOT is willing to assist the City in determining an acceptable location for this EV Charging Station and is also willing to provide reasonable technical assistance,” Brunkhorst’s letter said.
City Council members expressed disappointment and bewilderment over how installation of the charging station could have proceeded – with assistance from the project manager and even knowledge of on-site MnDOT employees — if it was not permissible.
Cziok explained that those on-site assumed the city had obtained the proper permitting, and the city did not realize permitting was necessary.
“Staff engineers were working with contractors on the project … similar to how we did with the clock (installed in the 200 block of North Sibley),” Cziok said, later adding that “we’ve got some clarification that needs to be had.”
Regardless, the city will be responsible for the cost of removal of the station and restoration of the area in which it now stands, according to the MnDOT letter.
“It is a bit of a disappointment for myself,” Cziok said.
Mayor Keith Johnson shared that disappointment, saying “it’s unfortunate” to have to move the station, and suggesting that perhaps it could be moved to another location around Central Park, keeping it in downtown to entice those who would use it to stop and spend time at restaurants and other businesses on main street.
“I was really excited about the opportunity to physically tie someone to downtown through a cord,” Cziok said of the charging station’s location. “I felt we were putting our best foot forward with that location
Council member Darlene Kotelnicki said the charging station saga has illustrated that “life is 50-50,” explaining that in recent days she had received correspondence from two people. One seemed upset that a futuristic structure like a charging station would be considered for placement in a historic district. Meanwhile, the other person congratulated the city on its forward thinking of adding a charging station
“If we have to move it, then let’s put it in a better place,” Kotelnicki concluded.