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Opposing views on trail heard

Fri, Feb 23rd, 2001
Posted in

Monday, February 26, 2001

The Fillmore County Board listened intently last week to a presentation by proponents of a proposed recreational trail that will run from the City of Spring Valley to a property known as the City Farm, northeast of town.

The group, led by Spring Valley resident Dale Wille, showed the Board a design plan that would have the proposed trail run in the right of way along County Road 8 for about one quarter of a mile in the city of Spring Valley.

County Engineer Steve Voigt presented the group to the Board, saying, "I thought we should have some preliminary discussions on the trail proposal and its impact on County Road 8." Voigt informed the Board that he didnt see anything wrong with the proposal from an engineering standpoint, but that there may be political issues.

The political issues quickly became evident as rural resident Mitch Lentz spoke up in opposition to the proposed trail. Lentz was present with a group of about five farmers who are opposed to the construction of the trail over private property.

Lentz presented the Board with a petition signed by 200 people who oppose the trail, explaining that the trail itself is "not whole heartedly supported." He also added that landowners worked with the county when route 8 was upgraded, but that there wasnt any talk of a trail at that time.

It seemed that the heart of the dissention centered on the potential condemnation powers that the city may have over land in the township. One farmer is not interested in selling property for the trail right of way, but under the joint powers authority his land could be condemned, forcing him to sell.

Speaking in support of the trail, Spring Valley resident Bob Baarsch explained that some landowners wouldnt meet with the trail planners to discuss property acquisition during the planning stage of the project.

Baarsch also added that a poll shows that Spring Valley residents place a high importance on recreation trails and that it is good economic development. "If this were a sidewalk, we wouldnt even be here," explained Baarsch.

In a similar counter argument to Baarsch, Mitch Lentz added, "If condemnation wasnt involved, this might be palatable. This (condemnation) is not a good way to make working relationships."

After listening to the two groups, Voigt instructed Wille to write a letter of intent to the County Board for formal action. No other action was taken on this matter.
Fillmore County in court

Fillmore County was in court last Tuesday after being cited by the Department of Natural Resources for performing work on a public waterway without a permit. The incident, which occurred last year, involved work by the Fillmore County Highway Department on a stream clean-out project on private property adjacent to a county right of way.

The county road crews apparently cleaned out the length of a streambed on the Gene Reiland property for a considerable distance beyond and downstream of a culvert that they were cleaning under a county road.

County Attorney Matt Opat held a closed-door strategy session with the Board during their weekly meeting to discuss the litigation that was pending at ten oclock that morning. He then went before the court and entered a plea of guilty for the County Board. The County was fined $300.00 plus $35.00 in court costs, and will now make application to the DNR for the proper permit.

A new engineer?

In a move that came as somewhat of a surprise to those who are not a part of the inner circle of behind-the-scenes decision making, and may have come as a surprise to some who may think that they are in that inner circle of decision making, on a motion by Commissioners Duane Bakke and Marc Prestby the Board voted unanimously, without any discussion at all, to approve advertising for the position of county engineer.

Apparently, the current County Engineer, Steve Voigt, was hired for a one-year probationary period that is non-binding for the County. That means the County does not have to retain his services as a regular, full-time employee after the one-year term, nor does it have to give good reason why it does not desire to move him into permanent status.

According to Board Chair Helen Bicknese, the countys personnel evaluation committee recommended that the Board advertise the position to solicit new candidates. The evaluation committee is comprised of County Coordinator Karen Brown, Board Chair Helen Bicknese, Commissioner Duane Bakke, and two department heads.

When asked in a post-meeting interview why there was no discussion on such an important motion, Chair Bicknese told the Journal that the issue was personnel related and that the Board was simply exercising its legitimate right to advertise the position near the end of Voigts probationary period, to see what candidates might be available.

Voigt, who had been in attendance at the meeting to discuss the Spring Valley bike trail, had already left the meeting when this last item on the agenda came up for a vote.

Of more concern from a public viewpoint, was the clear appearance that the motion to advertise the position appeared to be a staged formality. The absence of any questions or discussion on the motion seemed to indicate that this decision had been made prior to the meeting.

Other reports

The County Board also heard brief reports from Social Services on its programs, the Treasurers office on fund balances, and the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office on an update of the on-going soil survey.

Sheriff Jim Connolly also gave a report that offered some disconcerting information to the Board. The States law enforcement computers are moving from a DOS-based software to a Windows-based software and this will require the sheriffs office to upgrade its software to be compatible with the State.

The Sheriff received quotes from software vendors. However, the only proven product that can convert records from DOS to Windows carries a price tag of $44,000. After hearing that the new software needs to be in place by June, there was a discussion on where in the budget the money would come from for this software. The Sheriff was asked to investigate funding options.

Mike McGrath

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