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Charly Haley, Published January 30 2013

Campus-area parkers caught in towing blitz

MOORHEAD – Chantel Fugere was in class at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Wednesday afternoon when she heard that her roommate’s car had been towed.

Frantically, she ran out to her own car and found it still parked on Ninth Avenue South – right behind a car that was being towed.

When the 22-year-old tried to move her car, she was told by a police officer she couldn’t because he had already called it in.

“He was kind of a jerk about it,” Fugere said.

After class, she went to the north Moorhead police station, where she paid $95 to retrieve her vehicle.

Fugere was one of dozens of residents near the campuses of MSUM and Concordia College who had to scramble to find their vehicles Wednesday, the first day the city put into effect new snow removal parking rules that cleared one side of the streets in a roughly 120-block area.

The snow removal district was put into place this summer by the City Council, one of several measures aimed at addressing long-standing complaints about student street parking near the two colleges.

Wednesday was the first day it was effective, after city officials issued the declaration on Tuesday.

The regulations, which apply from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., called for towing vehicles parked on the north and east sides of streets Wednesday, in front of houses with even-numbered addresses. Today, they’ll be effective on the opposite side, in front of houses with odd-numbered addresses.

The snow removal zones are marked by blue signs. Still, it took a lot of people who park on the streets in the area by surprise – most of them students.

Ed’s Towing, the company the city contracts with for towing, towed 69 vehicles on Wednesday, owner Nick Grossman said.

That’s more than half of the 100 vehicles on which officers placed warnings late Tuesday, police Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

“It’s a new thing, we understand, there’s a learning curve,” said Jacobson, who added that the department tried to publicize the city’s snow declaration with media reports and campus security announcements. He said there were more cars towed than he had expected.

Though Jacobson said the university had indicated to city officials they informed students and staff of the new regulations via email, a mass email from MSUM about the city parking rules had a time stamp of 8:46 a.m. Wednesday.

Fugere said she didn’t check her email until after her car was towed away, but even after reading it, she was confused. The email – which was a copy of the city of Moorhead’s restrictions – said cars couldn’t park in front of even-numbered houses Wednesday and odd-numbered houses today. Fugere thought that only applied to residential areas and she was parked in front of academic buildings.

“It’s just super confusing as to what they mean,” said Brittni Larson, another MSUM student.

Larson, 23, said she saw three cars being towed on her way to school.

James Andersen, also an MSUM student, said he checked his email after he got to school. After reading the warning, he ran out to check on his car.

“I had a flurry of panic for a moment,” the 21-year-old said, but he found that his car was safely parked in front of an odd-numbered residence.

Larson was annoyed that MSUM’s email was sent after the snow removal parking rules went into effect at 8 a.m.

Larson said she knows the information was posted earlier on the city’s website, “but what student checks the city of Moorhead’s website before school?” she said. “I’m lucky if I check my email.”

Greg Lemke, MSUM public safety director, said the email was delayed due to communication issues about which department should send it out.

MSUM student Katie Baker, 22, said there’s hardly enough parking as it is near the colleges.

“For those who can’t afford permits, this is really disruptive,” she said.

As the mother of a 2-year-old, Baker anticipated the new rules being a problem for parents whose children stay at MSUM’s day care.

“It’s 10 below – you don’t want to walk your kid three blocks,” she said.

Andersen said he understands the situation. “It stinks, but parking would suck if the streets weren’t cleared,” he said.

Lemke said his department only got one complaint about the new rules, and it was from a student wondering where he was supposed to go to get his car.

Grossman said by 3 p.m., with 40 vehicles already towed, the area around the MSUM campus had been busier than by Concordia.

Concordia College student Jenny Moline, 19, said she hadn’t seen any issues with student parking on Wednesday. She said Concordia students received an email about it Tuesday.

Grossman had four of his seven full-time drivers working just at the campuses, attempting to clear the streets so they could be plowed. He said it takes a driver about 40 to 50 minutes to tow one car.

“It’s a slow process, and Public Works can’t clear the streets until these cars are out of there,” Jacobson said.

Vehicles were towed to the city’s impound lot on Highway 75 and 15th Avenue North.

Jacobson said a $10 per day storage fee is charged, but typically they don’t charge for the day after the vehicle was impounded.

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Forum reporters Erik Burgess and Emily Welker contributed to this report.