Mike Tenney, area DNR Wildlife Supervisor, and Robert McGillivray, Trust for Public Land (a non-profit conservation organization), answered questions concerning two separate requests for board approval of land acquisitions for wildlife management areas at the October 3 meeting of the county board.
The first request was for the acquisition of 379 acres that straddle Preble and Norway Townships now owned by the Larson Family. The intention is for the land to be purchased primarily using Outdoor Heritage Funds with some funding being contributed by the DNR using Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) funds. The Trust for Public Land would transfer the land to the DNR for the Choice Wildlife Management Area.
This property has been owned by the Larson family for generations. Brent Larson, trustee for the five family owners, said the family wants the natural beauty of the land preserved. The family was not interested in subdividing the land.
Chairman Randy Dahl asked about the crop land. Tenney said the portion being cropped is highly erodible. Thirty-four acres are in CRP. Ten acres are being used as a stream buffer. The property includes a portion of Maple Creek, a designated trout stream. Tenney said the plan is for the cropped portion to eventually be seeded with natural prairie plantings.
Commissioner Duane Bakke questioned the need for county board approval. McGillivray suggested that due to the use of some RIM funds county board approval is needed. Tenney commented that the county could stop the sale of land in some instances; for example, for public safety. Bakke was concerned that land currently being cropped will be taken out of production, converting it to something other than crop land. Bakke didn’t believe the board should have the right to affect the sale.
Dahl noted that some of his family’s land is similar (highly erodible); it is being put into the pollinator program. He was concerned that the land would not be managed well enough to limit the growth of invasive plants like box elder trees. Tenney insisted they will prevent growth of invasive plants. Dahl wanted some assurance that the property could not be sold for other purposes like logging. McGillivray said the land will have a deed restriction that will prevent the sale of the property for another purpose.
Payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) would be made to the county, expected to be comparable to property taxes now being collected on the property.
County Engineer Ron Gregg noted CSAH 13 runs through the valley. Bridges will need to be replaced on that road in the next five years. He was concerned about getting the necessary right of way from the DNR, citing past experiences with the DNR.
Commissioner Mitch Lentz maintained issues with the DNR have made road maintenance difficult in some instances. Maintenance of roads is necessary for public safety. Commissioner Gary Peterson asked about comments from the townships. The townships were notified in early September. Tenney said they have not had any response from the townships.
Dahl said he was in favor of the acquisition, citing recent flooding events that have made it difficult even with good crop management to farm highly erodible land.
A motion to approve the acquisition failed. Dahl and Commissioner Marc Prestby voted yes. Bakke, Lentz, and Peterson voted no.
Bakke voted no because the proposed acquisition included tillable ground, Lentz voted no because of issues with DNR on other road projects, and Peterson voted no because he wanted township input.
Tenney said he will be back when it can again be put on the board’s agenda. He will get in touch with the townships to make sure their concerns are addressed and work with County Engineer Gregg on road issues.
The second request was for approval of the acquisition of 66 acres from Dean Mikel, Section 2 of Forestville Township. The proposal is for the Nature Conservancy to use Lessard Sam’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to acquire the land and then to donate the land to Minnesota DNR Wildlife. It is to become part of Seven Springs Wildlife Management Area. The county will receive PILT payments.
All of this property is non-tillable. A motion to approve passed with Lentz and Dahl opposing.
Other business in brief
• Dan Larson, Minnesota Rural Counties, addressed the board to encourage them to join the organization. The organization was started in 1997 in the northern part of the state and there is now an effort in this region to build on its membership of 31 rural counties. The organization advocates specifically for rural county concerns. He described several instances when he believes their lobbying efforts paid off for Greater Minnesota. Larson asked the board to consider becoming a member. He insisted no one else advocates for rural concerns.
• A request to retire from LaVerne Paulson, Recycling Educator, effective October 6 was approved with thanks for 10 years of service with the county.
• Kristina Kohn, Human Resources, described a two-tier health insurance plan. It would offer a plan option with less costly premiums to employees that accept a plan that does not include Mayo Clinic in the network. The second option with higher premiums would include Mayo Clinic in the network. It would be the employee’s choice. There is some risk when the option that does not include Mayo Clinic in network is chosen, if for some reason there is an unexpected health issue that results in a referral to Mayo Clinic for treatment. If this were the case and Mayo Clinic was not in the network, the employee would start at zero on his/her deductible when going to Mayo Clinic. The two-tier plan was approved.
The Benefits Committee also recommended that there be a 5% increase in the county’s contribution. This would be an overall budget increase of 4%. All employees would benefit. Kohn noted it still knocks off 3% of the amount that was recently budgeted for health insurance, which was a 7% increase. The board approved the Benefits Committee’s recommendation. Lentz voted no.
• The purchase of a new fuel system at the Highway Department for county vehicle use was approved. The low bid from Rochester Petroleum Equipment, Inc. at a cost of $23,749.68 will provide the system for gas vehicles. Ron Gregg said the county will save money buying the fuel in bulk.
• A request from Social Services Manager Kevin Olson to allow two more employees to telecommute was approved. The employees are on the Income Maintenance staff. He is working to streamline procedures and become more efficient.
• An application for the annual County Veteran Service Officer Office Enhancement Grant in the amount of $10,000 was approved from the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs. VSO Jason Marquardt said much of the funds will be used for office technical equipment. No county match is required.
• The contract with the city of Ostrander for law enforcement services was approved. The city will pay the county $24,000 per year for the service.