Thompson paves its wayAlong Thompson’s Park Drive, along Woodland and North Woodland drives, the big, noisy machines of progress — or so-called progress, if you prefer — are scraping and shaping the dirt, preparing the way for what might pass in this bedroom community south of Grand Forks as revolution: the laying of asphalt.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
THOMPSON, N.D. — Along Thompson’s Park Drive, along Woodland and North Woodland drives, the big, noisy machines of progress — or so-called progress, if you prefer — are scraping and shaping the dirt, preparing the way for what might pass in this bedroom community south of Grand Forks as revolution: the laying of asphalt.
Thompson residents have voted more often on street paving than some larger cities have voted on event centers, and the result was always the same: Our dusty streets are just fine as they are.
Now, residents of the relatively new Woodland Estates on the northeast edge of town have asked for paving. Owners of 41 of the 48 lots within the development petitioned the council to summon the mixers.
The project will cost $565,000, Mayor Karyn Hippen said, and each lot in the district will be assessed $11,771.
“It was always the desire of the developers and the people who bought homes there that the streets would be paved,” she said.
“Past community leaders have wanted an all-or-nothing approach to paving the streets. But since this was specifically asked for by the citizens, we felt it was a good place to start.”
The way we were
Take a stroll through the old neighborhoods of Thompson, along gravel streets bounded by old shade trees and grassy ditches that slope up into toy-strewn yards, and it’s easy to become nostalgic for small-town scenes of the 1950s.
Didn’t Norman Rockwell paint this block, with the kids playing catch outside the blue bungalow, the flop-eared dog watching, the smiling mailman approaching?
It had to have been a calm day for Rockwell to see it, let alone paint it — a calm summer or early fall day with no prairie wind shrouding the town with dust clouds rising from the unpaved streets and bordering fields of corn and sugar beets.
“You dust the house on Friday,” city administrator Terri Herbert said, recalling many dry, gusty weekends in Thompson, “and by Sunday, you can write your name on the dresser.”
Gravely country roads in town: a reassuring tradition, sounding a familiar crunch beneath sneaker or tire, or just a dusty, rutted, outdated plague on motorists, skateboarders and dust-bedeviled homemakers?
Thompson’s 1,000-plus residents include many who commute each day to jobs, school or errands in Grand Forks, and people have debated for decades whether to keep their residential streets free of tar and other add-ons or, as the asphalt advocates chanted, bring Thompson into the 20th, now the 21st, century.
Pacific Avenue, Thompson’s main drag and named for railroader James J. Hill’s ambition to take his Great Northern Railroad to the West Coast, used to be paved. But grain trucks and other heavy traffic consistently pounded it, too, into dust, and years ago it was let go back to gravel.
That left N.D. Hwy. 15, cutting east to west through town, past the elevator and the Cenex, as the only paved road.
Loud, clear ‘No!’
Proposed community wide paving projects have failed in the past largely because residents objected to costs, which they would have borne through special assessments. Thompson has tried but failed to find state or federal assistance to lighten the load.
“It’s democracy at work,” then-Mayor Pat Hanson said in 2003 after the city bowed to protests against a planned $2.7 million project. “We gave them the opportunity to have the streets paved, and they spoke out loud and clear that it’s not something they want to do at this time.
“I guess that’s the way government is supposed to work,” she said.
Likewise, the council responded to the Woodland Estates petition, whose signers included 10-year Thompson residents Paul and Heidi Strande.
“We have a couple of kids who will have a few more things to do now, including roller-blading and riding bike,” Paul Strande said.
“It’s probably going to cause this area to grow to the east.”
Hippen, who as a city council member proposed the 2003 project, is optimistic that more paving will follow the Woodland Estates work.
“There are no plans at this time, but I think it would be favorable to continue,” she said. “I’d like to see the rest of the town follow.
“The underlying issue always has been and always will be cost. We’ll continue to look for funding, but at some point we’ll have to realize it’s not going to get any cheaper. And once the community sees how nice this area turns out. … ”
Sonia Gallagher, who lives in the southeast part of town, said that she has opposed previous paving projects because of their cost, especially to elderly residents on fixed incomes.
“It will be nice for the advancement of the town,” she said of the Woodland Estates project. “But we’ve gotten by without paving the streets for these many years, and it definitely would raise taxes.”
Dan Mayers, a former council member, agreed that cost always has been the issue. “Let’s just say that if Ralph Engelstad lived here at one time and put up money for paving, everybody would be happy,” he said.
Once streets are paved, maintenance should be easier and cheaper, Hippen said, as city crews would spend less time fixing frost boils and spraying gravel to reduce the billowing dust.
In 1998, city officials experimented with 16,000 gallons of a soybean oil byproduct at a cost of about $30,000. Some residents didn’t care for the smell — it was scented with coconut — “and it ended up being quite a messy oil to use,” Hippen said. “It would track into people’s homes and gum up their cars.
“For several years, the dust control of choice has been magnesium chloride, usually applied in the spring. The theory is it would make a crust, but usually by fall that’s long gone and we’re dusty again.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.