Prior Lake is kicking up dust about gravel driveways.

The City Council may impose a fee for homeowners whose gravel driveways pose public safety concerns for passersby, negatively affect water quality and require extra maintenance from the city, officials said.

Gravel finds its way onto city streets and ends up in storm sewer systems, said City Engineer Larry Poppler during a presentation at last week's City Council meeting.

"We sometimes have some movement of the material that comes out on to the sidewalk and presents a tripping hazard for rollerbladers and skateboarders," Poppler said. There's a need for extra street-sweeping on gravel-ridden streets and driveways.

Homes built as early as 1979 had to install paved driveways, but enforcement was limited; some weren't finished.

A 2009 ordinance update required residents who didn't meet municipal codes to pave their driveway within five years — by June 2014.

The deadline sparked Poppler's report, to re-examine the issue.

An inventory conducted through aerial photography showed there are 315 gravel driveways left in Prior Lake, he said. Yet only 74 are eligible for enforcement, as the others were built before 1979 and grandfathered in.

On the surface, 315 driveways out of more than 10,000 total parcels in the city doesn't seem like a problem, said Mayor Ken Hedberg said in an interview.

"But in a community where we've got 14 lakes and are filled with many wetlands … water quality is a huge issue for us," he said. "And in that context, 315 gravel driveways takes on greater importance in the long run."

Pave or pay

At the meeting, council members decided that instead of forcing homeowners to pave gravel driveways that aren't up to code, they could develop a fee structure to cover city expenses for cleaning up after them.

It wouldn't be penalizing, Poppler said, but city staff hope it might encourage residents to pave their driveways instead of worrying about a fine.

The council will deliberate in coming weeks about exactly how much the fee should be and how often it needs to be paid. Mayor Hedberg said he'd like to apply the fine to all gravel driveway owners, not just the 74 built after the ordinance was written. But it likely wouldn't be implemented for another year to give residents fair notice, he said.

"I don't think an ordinance change will buy us much other than get people mad," Hedberg said at the meeting. "A fee may get people mad too, but there's a rationale behind that."

City staff were instructed to quantify how much the city spends for extra maintenance and then research how much other municipalities charge for those services. That information will be used to determine a fair price for the fine.

Prior Lake also has several public gravel streets to deal with. In the past, they were paved only when an existing road repair project could fit it in, Poppler said. But now, fewer than two percent of Prior Lake's roads remain gravel, so there's a mentality of "Maybe we should just finish them off," Poppler said.

Hedberg said he doesn't expect citizens to do anything the city wouldn't do itself.

"I think it's only fair and appropriate that the city complies with whatever ordinances that we impose on our residents," he said.