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Caught in the path of progress

Fri, Mar 23rd, 2001
Posted in

Monday, March 26, 2001

There is a big change coming to Preston. Yes, the ethanol plant is going to expand, which will probably mean a taller stack and a stronger odor. But that change may be dwarfed by what the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDot) is planning for the county seat.

Lately, the County Board has been hearing about those plans and how they will impact Board decisions as well as the lives of those who are caught in the pathway of progress. The new MnDot plans for U.S. Highway 52 will severely restrict access to the main highway through the City of Preston, which could prove to be a challenge for a County Board trying to decide how and where to plan for its courthouse and facilities upgrades.

But for some whose property lies in the path of the new highway, those plans spell the end of life as they have known it.

At last Tuesdays meeting, a nearly helpless Board of Commissioners listened empathetically as two citizens, Donald Kohn and Morris Bjork, desperately told about how MnDot is going to take Kohns home for the highway expansion.

"They want to tear my house down to build a county road," explained Kohn. "Im strictly against all of it," he affirmed.

Mr. Kohns house just happens to lie in the middle of the proposed new intersection of Highway 52 and County Route 17. He came before the Board to complain about the plans and to seek help in retaining his home.

"I want to stay there until I die," continued Kohn. "Weve had so much stress, I cant take it anymore. Never in my whole life have I seen anything like this! This is a whole countywhy cant you buck up against them?" he challenged, referring to the MnDot project planners.

County Engineer Steve Voigt explained to both Kohn and the commissioners that it is MnDots goal to restrict access into Preston, using St. Paul Street as the main access into town. Referring to the state highway department, Voigt added, "They have a lot of say on access, (but) we are working with them."

Board Chair Helen Bicknese inquired of Voigt if there have been any public informational meetings on the project.

"Not yet," responded Voigt.

"So this is in the very preliminary stages?" inquired Commissioner Marc Prestby.

"Yes," replied Voigt.

Preston resident Morris Bjork was also in attendance at the meeting to support Donald Kohn. Bjork had done some research at the assessors office and was able to quote the Board some hard numbers on the tax revenue loss to the City of Preston when the homes in the right-of-way are removed.

"Theyre going to lose $9,198," announced Bjork. "Whos going to pick that up? The rest of the town!"

Mr. Bjork also complained about the speed limit on Highway 52 in Preston, announcing that he felt a limit of 35 mph was fast enough. Engineer Voigt explained that the new highway will have curb and gutter through Preston, and that design has been known to slow traffic down with its "urban look."

In closing the visit, Board Chair Bicknese could only assure Mr. Kohn and Mr. Bjork that the county would let them know when there will be a public hearing on the project.

Hardly satisfied that a public hearing will save his home, Mr. Kohn added before leaving, "Put this in your head: I am not going to move!"

Another highway path

In a similar, yet unrelated situation, the Board struggled with executing condemnation proceedings on a property in Lanesboro that is in the path of the County Route 8 project in the vicinity of the Lanesboro Sales Commission.

The City of Lanesboro, unsuccessful at its attempt to buy a new right-of-way from a property owner for the County 8/Coffee Street upgrade, asked Fillmore County to begin the condemnation proceedings.

After reviewing the facts regarding the right-of-way acquisition, County Attorney Matt Opat advised the Board that it might be more cost effective for the County to purchase the land at the owners asking price than it would be to go through the condemnation process.

In the end, the Board voted to begin the condemnation process, but the motion by Commissioner Randy Dahl instructed Opat to try to resolve the disagreement with the landowner first. The Journal has since learned that an agreement was worked out to avoid the condemnation.
Social Service Report

Announcing that April is Child Protection Month, Social Services Director Tom Boyd introduced some members of the Fillmore County Child Protection Team to present information on programs the County conducts to prevent child abuse.

Complimenting the group on its dedication and team effort, Boyd introduced Wendy Ebner, Vicky Giese, and Kari Aske, all social service workers specializing in child protection. Also present was team member Darrell Johnson of the Fillmore County Sheriffs office. Deputy Johnson explained to the commissioners that child abuse continues to be a problem but that child protection is a top priority of the Sheriffs office.

Attorney Matt Opat affirmed the effectiveness of the team, adding that his office is much busier with child protection cases than before, and that it is also a priority in his office. "Why people do what they do to kids is beyond me," he added.


In other action, the Board approved a revised amendment to the Feedlot Base Grant, which is merely a revised budget for the Feedlot Officer that reflects a smaller grant award than was originally planned for.

The Board also approved another Household Hazardous Waste collection to be held on May 23, 2001 from 12:00 noon to 5:00 P.M. According to the Recycling Coordinator, Sandra Benson, the last hazardous waste collection was a tremendous success.

Coordinator Benson also announced that there will be a mercury thermometer exchange held during the week of April 22 to coincide with Earth Week events. Those who turn in a mercury thermometer will receive a free digital thermometer in exchange.

By Mike McGrath

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