Malfunction Junction was among safety projects completed by the city of Sidney in 2020, a project that helps create a new artery for youths in the neighborhood west of Lincoln to get to school. In addition to a safer crossing, the project made the area more pedestrian friendly overall, including handicap accessibility.
It’s just one of several city projects that kept rolling in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, which placed hardships on every entity in the community and potentially made public access and open meetings problematic.
“We did take everything, and we still do take everything very seriously as you know,” Mayor Rocky Norby told the Sidney Herald. “We turned around and shut everything pretty much down like the government wanted us to do, even here in the city hall.”
To that end, the city took several steps throughout the year, including the purchase of a $3,000 computer application called iCompass, to help supplement online meeting agendas, and to eventually make it possible to livestream meetings to the public.
While there was some initial thought of closing meetings to in-person attendance because the existing city hall is a very small space and would not be conducive to maintaining social distance, the city ultimately decided to relocate to the firehouse, which allowed in-person attendance, and to offer a virtual attendance option at the same time.
That way those who preferred to appear in person could and those who didn’t want to meet in person but still wanted to provide input could do so virtually.
That kept everything on track for the 2020 budgeting process, Mayor Norby said, an annual exercise that usually involves many meetings between staff members and council members, as well as public hearings.
“It’s not been fun by any means, but we have done everything we can for the safety of our employees and the people around us,” Norby said.
Meanwhile, in the Public Works Department, Director Jeff Hintz designed a rotation for his crews to reduce the number of people present at any one given time. He also cancelled the Monday safety meeting, which generally brought upwards of 25 people or so together in a tight space.
That approach allowed essential work to get done while minimizing the risk of putting the city at the center of a super spreading event.
There have been a few cases of COVID-19 during the year, which resulted in some quarantines, but not so many at once that the entire department was out of commission at once.
“I have to be kind of careful,” Hintz told the Sidney Herald. “We might need to do some of that again, but we have otherwise been able to carry on pretty much as normal.”
Among the big projects completed in 2020, the city’s water system expansion and upgrade project was completed on time and on budget. That project rerouted a water main from 14th Street Southeast to Fourth Avenue Southeast, at the same time replacing an old line with a new one, and adding to its overall capacity.
This puts the city on track to do the next in the series, a $1.8 million project that will upgrade a 12-inch water main that runs between a water reservoir on the northeast part of town to another by the golf course. The existing pipe is 1960s cast iron and 1970s concrete.
An unrelated side project, long-awaited, was also completed in 2020, extending Sixth Avenue to 14th, improving traffic flow for the area.
That project was not related to the water project, but had been planned upon completion of the bike path in that area. A nearby irrigation canal was also converted to an underground pipe in that location, which helped make the extension more feasible.
A dip off of Fourth Avenue was also eliminated, a nice safety bonus for high school traffic in that area.
Sidney also approved a $154,949 stormwater study in 2020 that will begin in 2021, to help alleviate flooding issues in town. That seven-phase study will take place over two years, and is partially funded with grant money.