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Park and Ride to get permanent cameras by end of November

A rash of break-ins and vandalism at the Cottage Grove Metro Transit Park and Ride early this year lot prompted officials to promise the installation of permanent security cameras by the end of the year to skittish commuters.

But seven months after that March community meeting, problems have continued to crop up periodically as the isolated lot awaits the installation of the promised cameras. The West Point Douglas Road Park and Ride should be outfitted with the permanent cameras by Nov. 30, a Metro Transit official said last week.

Cottage Grove Police say six thefts of catalytic converters - stolen for the valuable copper they contain - have taken place since March at the isolated lot where commuters ride express buses to jobs in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Only two of the incidents occurred after the placement of a temporary camera in the lot in April.

"There's been a couple big occurrences that are pretty significant over the last year and a half," said Cottage Grove public safety director Craig Woolery during a late-September conference call between a Metro Transit representative, state representative Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, city officials and a commuter victimized in the latest round of thefts.

Cottage Grove's Park and Ride lot sits relatively isolated on West Point Douglas Road, in stark contrast to Woodbury's lot located in the middle of a busy commercial area where heavy traffic acts as a crime deterrent.

But the local Park and Ride isn't alone in its battle against daytime theft, with Metro Transit community outreach representative Jill Hentges saying "Cottage Grove definitely is not unusual."

"It's (the lots) that are not on major roadways that are more susceptible," she said.

Problems at the Park and Ride have led Cottage Grove Police to focus what Woolery said is a disproportionate amount of resources on the parking lot. Officers take mid-day drives through the mostly quiet lot looking for suspicious activity and all city employees have been asked to drive through if in the area.

The difficulty is, Woolery says, that all activity doesn't cease in the lots despite the lack of bus service during non rush hours. Other transportation services drop off and pick up at the Metro Transit Park and Ride, and "it's hard to tell exactly what anybody's doing unless you physically go up and speak to them," Woolery said.

In addition to the long-awaited cameras, another remedy suggested by city officials and Bigham has been the removal of the earthen berm separating the lot from the nearby roadway. The berm -- which impedes visibility of the park and ride to passing motorists, making it more difficult to monitor the troubled lot with drive-bys, officials say -- was constructed when the parcel was originally slated to have a Washington County building constructed atop it, said community development director Howard Blin. At the public meeting in March and again during the recent conference call, Bigham advocated leveling the mound, a move Blin said the city would have no exceptions to.

"You could haul that dirt out, level it out and perhaps expand that lot in the future," Blin told Metro Transit's Hentges, adding later: "Metro Transit has entire control of the site to do whatever is necessary" as long as it remains a Park and Ride lot.