Council, ECE have Cambridge walking on sunshine

A 15-acre solar garden is proposed southwest of Sandquist Park’s softball and baseball diamonds.

One of the biggest up-and-coming uses of larger empty plots of land appears to be making its way to Cambridge in the near future. East Central Energy has recently proposed to lease approximately 15 acres of land adjacent to Sandquist Park for the purpose of constructing a solar garden.

City Administrator Lynda Woulfe informed the council during their Oct. 1 meeting about the proposition. 

Woulfe said the proposed garden would be fenced in, with controlled access. The panels themselves would be single-axis and have tracking technology to follow the sun throughout the day. Additionally, ECE would plant a mixture of pollinator-friendly plants in the area.

Woulfe said ECE is offering to pay the city the equivalent of 5 percent of the output of the facility. 

“Currently, when we rent farmland, we get we get $85 per tillable acre (per year),” Woulfe said. “This (leasing to ECE) would be roughly the equivalent of almost $500 an acre.”

Woulfe said ECE offered to pay the lease through a credit on the city’s wastewater treatment facility’s electric bill. Woulfe added the suggestion of getting it in cash instead, which could be placed in the Parks and Recreation budget.

“I asked them if instead we could have the amount in a cash payment,” Woulfe said. “I thought we should then put that into the park dedication fund. The tillable acres goes into parks as well, and if we’re using park land for something like this, it makes sense that it would go back into parks.”

Additionally, through a Minnesota tax on solar energy of $1.20 per megawatt-hour, the city would be given 20 percent of that tax, with the other 80 percent going to the county. According to Woulfe, that would generate approximately $4,600 in total tax revenue during its first year of operations, and approximately $140,700 in total tax revenue over the 30 years of the lease. The city would collect 20 percent of that amount.

However, Woulfe noted that the council didn’t have to decide that day where the money would go – she was just asking for council approval to draw up a lease contract with ECE.

One of the concerns the council raised was if leasing the space would hinder future expansion of Sandquist Park.

“We still have space to expand over there,” said Woulfe. “So you’re not limiting yourself in terms of the growth of the park.”

Council member Joe Morin added that expansion plans he saw for that specific 15-acre area included only expanding the parking lot.

After discussion, a motion was made to go forward with the proposed project, which passed on a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Palmer casting the lone no vote. 

Woulfe indicated she hoped to have a lease agreement in place for the council to approve as early as one of the November meetings.

New restaurant coming along

Also at the Oct. 1 meeting, the council approved both a downtown improvement loan and grant to Grant Johnson and Erick Harcey to be used for the internal and external remodeling of The Leader building, along with the vacant building behind it. 

The loan will go towards roof replacement on both buildings, along with air conditioning improvements. The grant will be for window replacement and a new awning.

Additionally, the council approved a liquor license for the new restaurant to be located in roughly half of The Leader building, which will be called “Willards.”

According to Johnson, remodeling of the southern half of the building is completed and they are in the process of moving the retail merchandise into it so they can begin remodeling the northern half into the restaurant.

Ice rinks score new scoreboards

Community Development Director Marcia Westover presented a request to purchase two scoreboards for the outdoor ice rinks located in Heritage Greens.

According to Westover, she has been informed by the Cambridge-Isanti Hockey Association that they are having trouble getting Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association approval of tournaments to be held at the rinks without the scoreboards. One of the benefits of the rinks was to help draw teams from other communities into the city to participate in tournaments. Westover said that adding scoreboards was already part of parks and recreation’s short-term goals.

Westover said the CIHA is willing to donate $5,000 for the scoreboards, which would leave a cost to the city of $34,520. She added that the city has applied for a grant through ECE’s Operation Round Up, but a decision on the grants wasn’t expected until the end of October. The $34,420 would come from Northbound Liquor funds. 

The request was unanimously approved.

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