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City tells violators of nuisance ordinance to clean up their act

Five Wadena residents who have run afoul of the city's nuisance ordinance will pay for mandatory clean-up of debris on their property in the coming weeks that presents a safety or health hazard to the public, the city council decided on Tuesday.

The council directed Interim Police Chief Naomi Plautz to begin working with the five owners to schedule a day before Oct. 15 where city crews can come in and abate each property.

As Mayor Wayne Wolden recalled, the abatement process in the past has involved Public Works Department employees coming with a police escort to the property and cleaning up by either hauling the debris away or making it more organized. The property owner is then left to pay the bill, but City Administrator Brad Swenson said the value of any salvageable material the city crew hauls away is then subtracted from the amount paid by the nuisance violator.

At first, there was discussion during the meeting regarding the extent of what things crews had the power to remove, as Public Works Director Dan Kovar brought up an instance where he said his coworkers had abated a house and the owner appeared to be able to pick and choose what was cleaned up. City Attorney Jeff Pederson clarified that the city had authority to clean up the specific violations that were mentioned in the letters that each owner had gotten saying their property was in violation of city law. On the properties that the city dealt with Tuesday, the debris in question ranged from scrap iron and lumber to a motor home that appeared in photos taken by Plautz to be missing at least part of its engine.

Although all five received invitations to speak at the meeting, city officials said, only one owner showed up. Dan Hansen, who owns a nuisance property on Highway 10/Ash Avenue NE, said former Police Chief Bruce Uselman was "fine with" the result of a cleanup effort after Hansen was put on the nuisance list before, in 2010.

"'What would make it any more of a nuisance now?' is what my question is," Hansen said. "I've never done anything to bring in more stuff."

Swenson said later during the meeting that Uselman actually was the one who sent the first letter in the more recent nuisance listing that notified Hansen he was again in violation of city ordinances.

Hansen also said a recent illness had prevented him from working on the property.

"When I get back on my feet again and I get back to work, I will be taking care of all of that stuff," he said.

The council later voted to proceed with Hansen's abatement. Other owners whose property will now be abated are Doris Anderson on Fourth Street NW, Brian Hagen on Reini Drive, Darren Johnson on Fourth Street NW and Robert Skarka on Fifth Street SW.

In addition, the council also voted to direct Pederson to initiate the process of declaring a house on the Skarka property and an outbuilding on the Anderson property to be unsafe.