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A group of Houston County citizens is working to schedule a joint meeting between Minnesota and Wisconsin representatives in light of a railcar explosion in North Dakota last month, and the Houston County Board of Commissioners received an update at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Donna Buckbee of Yucatan Township, who represented the Houston County Protectors, said she and other members of the group met with an aid from the office of Rep. Tim Walz’s, who is a member of the transportation committee. This meeting took place in La Crescent in response to the railcar explosion in Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30.

The Protectors are working to bring Walz and Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind together to have a regional meeting about rail transportation threats. Buckbee submitted a packet on the increasing rate of rail transport of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and the defective nature of DOT-11 rail cars. The combination of volatile fuels being transported on defective rail cars is of great concern to the Protectors.

“You cannot prepare for explosions in your town,” Buckbee said.

Board chairman Teresa Walter and Commissioner Dana Kjome also attended this meeting and agreed with Buckbee’s summarization.

“There are issues with quality and/or the type of trains used,” Walter said. “With Tim Walz on both the transportation committee and the rail sub-committee, these concerns were taken to him.”

Greenhouse application denied for now

The board voted to deny the conditional-use permit for nine greenhouses on the Ivan and Lois McElhiney property in Mound Prairie Township. In December, the board received a permit application to build the greenhouses and the application was approved by the planning commission. Additional comments from the public, however, convinced commissioners to delay the decision.

Zoning administrator Bob Scanlan said he would be in favor of a closer examination of the plan, which is to build nine greenhouses on a seven-acre site, and includes a highway right-of-way. Scanlan had concerns involving water runoff created by the additional greenhouse roofs.

Since December, Scanlan has been in contact with the soil and water conservation district, and it was suggested by Dave Walter of the conservation district to limit the plan to two or three greenhouses, depending on the size. Walter said information on the greenhouses’ size was limited, as the drawings on the plan were not done to scale. He warned that even a 30 foot-wide greenhouse would take up a significant amount of space; however, the property owner is willing to scale back on the number of greenhouses.

In addition, Scanlan told the board that each of these greenhouses would contain fish, but no processing would be done on the site. He recommended adding a condition to the permit restricting the processing of fish, along with restricting the number of greenhouses. Walter added that before any construction was done, a clear plan from a contractor, developer or engineer needed to be in place on how to deal with storm water and runoff.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said over the past few weeks, he had been contacted by neighbors who would prefer the greenhouses be relocated. Based on Walter and Scanlan’s comments, Zmyewski felt uncomfortable approving the application without more details.

Zmyewski made a motion to deny the application, but encouraged the property owner to come back with a different plan. Kjome seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously by the board.

E-waste contract approved

Environmental services director Rick Frank addressed changes in the collection of electronic waste. Last October, Frank was notified that due to changes in the industry, the company responsible for collecting e-waste would need to begin charging for materials picked up from Houston County.

Since this announcement, Frank has been looking into contracting with other companies for e-waste collection. He recently narrowed his search down to Dynamic Recycling out of Holmen, Wis., which offered the lowest cost for Houston County. Frank recommended commissioners approve a contract with the company.

He assured the board that Dynamic had all the necessary permits to handle e-waste and could properly process the materials. This contract will also allow the county to take advantage of a rebate program.

Frank said the costs would be lower due to state regulations in Minnesota and Wisconsin requiring manufacturers selling electronic material to help cover costs of taking back e-waste. In order to collect on the rebate, the county will need to be in the program for a full year, meaning the cost savings will not happen until 2015. The term will run for one year, from January to December.

The board approved the contract.

Planning commission list narrowed

Six individuals applied for the open position on the county planning commission, and a search committee consisting of Frank, Zmyewski and Kjome narrowed the pool down to three. As the decision will affect the entire board, the search committee wanted additional commissioners’ input on the final three applicants.

In addition, an alternate for the board of adjustment will be needed. Walter and Schuldt agreed to join that interview process.

Temporary employees hired

Jail administrator Mark Schiltz and human resources director Tess Arrick-Kruger interviewed several 67-day employee applicants to increase the county’s pool of temporary workers. Schiltz was requesting three additional applicants be added to the roaster, including Elissa Stroble, Justin Hess and Zachary Swedberg. The board approved the hiring of all three candidates.

In other news

  • Ron Meiners, manager of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, came with a recommendation to adopt the five-year water plan revisions, which was recently approved by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Meiners said this plan is the same resolution adopted five years earlier. The board adopted the plan revision.
  • Kjome informed the board that Andy Folz of Spring Grove won the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition in his age group. He asked for a resolution congratulating Folz for his achievement.
  • The board approved the historic structure report agreement with Pathfinders. This report is necessary for the county to receive funding for the state historical society Legacy Grant, which the county would use to make repairs and improvements to the historic courthouse.
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