Scandia council approves tornado sirens

Bone Lake residents: Too close to homes


Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Thanks to the city of Forest Lake, Scandia will triple the number of emergency warning sirens it has, from one to three.

Because Forest Lake now has software to monitor its outdoor alarm system and report problems to the fire department, the city has offered to donate to Scandia two 1988 Federal Thunderbeam sirens that do not work with the software, mounted on 50-foot poles.

At the April 16 meeting, the Scandia council voted to accept the donation.

In 2009 Scandia spent $23,000 to replace an old civil defense siren, located downtown, because it did not meet FCC requirements and had no battery back-up. The replacement was placed near the fire station, where it is the only current siren.

To cover the entire city would require eight more sirens. Scandia planned to buy one each year for the next six years, using a FEMA grant for three-fourths of the cost, but recently learned the FEMA program is no longer available.

Scandia will mount one of the donated sirens near Big Marine Lake and one near Bone Lake. Removal and installation will cost $12,000.

The council chose to place the two alarms near recreational lakes to warn boaters of impending severe weather. In 2012 the city received a letter from residents requesting sirens, saying about 100 homes on the west side of Big Marine Lake cannot hear weather alerts.

An easement will be purchased to put one siren at the Big Marine Lake Store, 19261 Manning Trail N.

The Bone Lake siren will be placed in the city right-of-way at the intersection of 232nd Street and Lofton Avenue.

Not everyone is happy about that. At the April 9 council work session, one week before the council vote, two Bone Lake residents spoke against the siren.

Sue Rivard, who lives on Lofton Court, said the proposed placement was so close to her house that she would have to go inside and shut all her windows for every siren test. “That noise is painfully loud,” she said.

The sirens are tested for one minute on the first Wednesday of each month from March through November.

“When you move to the country, you don’t expect sirens,” Rivard said. “I didn’t move to a dead-end street to have a siren blaring once a month.”

Margie Schmidt, president of the Bone Lake Association, said the residents she talked to would rather not have a siren, and were concerned about the loons and other birds nesting in the area.

“There’s a reason you pay more to live on a lake,” she said, for the peace and quiet it offers.

Schmidt asked whether the council had considered other locations. Mayor Randall Simonson said other locations do not support the power requirement. Fire Chief Jim Finnegan said Xcel quoted $3,500 to put in a transformer for a one-phase siren and $10,000 for a three-phase.

City Administrator Kristina Handt said they were looking for city-owned property close to the lake. Maintenance Superintendent Tim Kiefer said the original plan for siren placement was farther from houses but was in a low area, where sound would not carry as far.

Rivard considered an emergency siren for Bone Lake unnecessary.

“If you live in the country, you pay attention to the weather,” she said, adding that with Smartphone apps for severe weather warnings, “How can you not know if a storm is coming?”

Councilmember Jim Schneider was opposed.

“I’m not for having these sirens at all. I’ve been out on a lake in boat, a storm goes over hard, and the siren goes off 15 minutes later,” he said.

The Thunderbeam uses a rotating angled disc below the siren to direct the sound in a circle around the pole. Simonson said the sound being broadcast out (not down), and rotating, lessens the effect.

Between the April 9 and April 16 meetings, the city used its Facebook page to request feedback from Bone Lake residents. Seven individuals responded, with one favoring the city-owned property on Lofton Court, three voting for the northwest corner of 232nd Street and Lofton Avenue in city right-of-way, and three preferring another location near Bone Lake.

At the April 16 meeting, a different siren placement was proposed for Bone Lake.

Both Rivard and Schmidt were in attendance. Schmidt thanked the council for considering the people’s wishes and suggested the siren could be “somewhere not so close to peoples’ houses and still serve its purpose.” But the new placement was even closer to her house.

“I came last week to support Sue, when it was across from her house, and now it’s across from my house,” she said.

In addition to ruining the peace and quiet for people who live there, Rivard said, placing sirens close to homes reduces property values: “I would never buy a property with a tornado siren directly across the street.”

Rivard proposed placing the siren 0.2 miles south of the original spot on 228th at Lofton, a farm location, she said, with rising terrain. “I don’t think it should be less than 500 feet from houses,” she said.

Handt said the siren will be 200 feet from the nearest house. Finnegan explained that the siren requires a transformer and so must be placed near a house.

Simonson said in talking to Scandia residents, “the one constant I’ve heard from people is they wish they had warning sirens.”

Schneider, who voted against the measure, said “Big Marine Lake is extremely busy, but Bone Lake is very different. It’s mainly used by the people who live there.” Schneider was against putting a siren at Bone Lake, at least until a better location could be found.

Councilmember Dan Lee agreed, saying “I’m all for sirens,” but said he felt for the residents having to live next to one. “My only concern is Sue, with it right under her house. Then staff found another place, right under someone else’s house.”

Council members Chris Ness and Sally Swanson concluded that the cost of putting up with the monthly tests does not outweigh the benefit of possibly saving lives.

The council voted 4-1 to accept two outdoor warning sirens and designate new siren locations at the Big Marine Lake Store on Manning Trail and the intersection of 232nd Street and Lofton Avenue near Bone Lake. Schneider voted no.

The single-phase siren at the fire hall will be moved to Bone Lake, which has no access to three-phase power.

Because Washington County is divided into north and south for severe weather alerts, all three Scandia sirens will go off simultaneously. Assistant Fire Chief Bill Havener said the weather service can instruct the city to turn on just one siren.