Wahpeton council votes 5-2 for possible October street closure

With a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the Wahpeton City Council approved closing down two blocks on Fourth Street North for much of Saturday, Oct. 3. The stretch of road may be the site for an outdoor viewing party for the next Bison football game.

With a 5-2 vote Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Wahpeton City Council approved closing Fourth Street North between Dakota Avenue and Second Avenue North from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3.

City Brew Hall and The Boiler Room, which have patios facing Fourth Street North, may hold a viewing party for the North Dakota State Bison’s game against the Central Arkansas Bears. Representatives from the restaurants did not attend the council meeting, but said they would discuss logistics this week.

"We will certainly comply with any directives the city gives us," said Dan Hurder, Great Plains Hospitality, whose restaurants include The Boiler Room. "We will meet any state compliance and follow what needs to be done with social distancing."

Should the viewing party be held, the Bison game would be broadcast on a large screen, Wahpeton Community Development Director Chris DeVries said. A post-game concert is expected to follow.

Prior to the vote, Mayor Steve Dale and council members discussed everything from security to restrooms to the possibility of having to cancel the event should there be an increase of active COVID-19 cases.

“I do think we need to weigh our needs against our wants,” 2nd Ward Councilman Jason Goltz said. “School is in session because we need to have kids in school. We all have to make sacrifices. Having parties is probably a want.”

Goltz and Councilman at-large Lane Wateland ultimately voted against the street closure. Earlier in the meeting, council unanimously approved an extension of Wahpeton’s local emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The declaration was first approved to be in effect for up to 90 days from March 23, 2020. Renewed on June 15 and subsequently renewed Tuesday, the declaration now has a December 7 deadline.

Under the declaration, Mayor Dale has the authority to cancel the possible viewing party or other such events if the situation warrants, Assistant City Attorney Steve Lies said.

“School just started. We may see a large upsurge of cases. The event is three weeks away. It’s hard to say,” Lies said.

Five new COVID-19 cases were confirmed Wednesday, Sept. 9 in Richland County, North Dakota. The last new local COVID-19 cases prior to Wednesday, five total, were confirmed Saturday, Sept. 5.

Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said he is sure the restaurants want to do something to benefit the community. However, he’s concerned about people acting like the pandemic has ended.

“I’m about public safety, not about wrecking a good time,” Thorsteinson said. “We don’t want to create a hotspot. Yes, our number of positive cases are down, but that’s also because our number of tests are down. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Events like the possible viewing party are not covered under the police department’s modified response protocol, Thorsteinson said. In the event of an emergency, of course, law enforcement will respond.

“Our protocol right now is intended to preserve our ability to respond to a real emergency,” Thorsteinson said.

The viewing party would be the third extended event held in the two-block stretch of Fourth Street North in less than three months. The Second Annual Borderline Chalkfest resulted in the area being closed to vehicles from July 18-19. The last day of the inaugural Headwaters Music Festival, Aug. 7, included a 5-11 p.m. finale concert.

“We do need to make it crystal clear that there’s expectations here regarding social distancing,” Mayor Dale said. “I really do believe that in the future, we’re going to need to have a discussion about how often we’re going to let these things happen.”

Residents are reminded that while Wahpeton’s city buildings are not at pre-pandemic operations, it is possible to make appointments. Call 701-642-8448 for more information.

Calling 701-553-8600 and entering the code 19001 allows attendance of a city council or subcommittee meeting via telephone.

Councilwoman at-large Renata Fobb was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21 at City Hall and telephonically.

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