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Board asked to approve violation

Fri, Feb 16th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, February 19, 2001

Last week, the Fillmore County Board came within minutes of approving a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for a sawmill that is in violation of the Countys own Zoning Ordinance.

As presented to the Board by Zoning Administrator Norm Craig, the resolution for the permit for Root River Hardwoods to operate their existing sawmill in Carrolton Township was clearly in violation of the new regulations governing the permitting of sawmills with regard to loading and unloading trucks in a road right-of-way.

The recommendation for approval of the CUP came from the Fillmore County Planning Commission, whose only condition for approval was "that Root River Hardwoods, Inc. continues to work with Fillmore County to find a solution to the problem of the truck loading and unloading on the road."

The new Fillmore County zoning regulations state that sawmills may not load or unload trucks on public roads, and some recently permitted sawmills in Amherst and Canton Townships were specifically required to take measures to keep trucks off the road as a condition for their permits.

The approval process began to falter when Board Chair Helen Bicknese, noting the Planning Commissions only condition, inquired of Craig what the timeline was for the sawmill owners to come into compliance. To Craigs reply that the condition was open-ended, Commissioner Randy Dahl asserted, "Id like a deadline on this."

After a brief discussion on what is a reasonable time, Dahl turned to County Attorney Matt Opat and asked, "Is this a liability for the county?"

"Yes, it is," replied Opat. "I have a problem with this permit as it violates our ordinance."

"Well, maybe we shouldnt approve this if they cant comply," responded Dahl. "Once you pass a county ordinance, they should comply."

Commissioner Gary Peterson joined in the discussion after Craig assured the board that Root River Hardwoods planned to construct a new loading road on their own property later this year.

"The way this permit reads, you havent found a solution yet," Peterson said to Craig.

"We probably should change the wording," responded Craig.

"Whats our timeline on this?" inquired Commissioner Duane Bakke referring to the required response time of the county to the application.

To this, Craig responded that the county has 60 days from the application date to either approve or disapprove the permit, noting that this time period would end on March 3. The process can be extended another 60 days with a request from the applicant.

"Rather than deny this, lets go through the paperwork for an extension," offered Bakke. "Ask them to come back with an extension (application)," he added.

At this point, Commissioner Marc Prestby also added that he had a problem approving the permit if it is not in compliance.

In the end, Dahl instructed Craig to stress to Root River Hardwoods that the problem would have to be corrected quickly and by the end of the 60-day extension period. The Board withheld approval of the permit at this time.
Highway Plan

County Engineer Steve Voigt came before the Board to present for approval his five-year work plan for the countys roads. Voigt has been working on the plan for the past several months, and in January, held a public hearing on the plan to obtain feedback from citizens. However, his request for Board approval quickly met some political resistance.

Commissioner Bakke, who in the past has expressed concern about Voigts five-year plan, asked, "What is the significance of this? What do you want us to do?"

Voigt quietly explained that the five-year plan was a planning tool, and pointed out a disclaimer on the plan which stated that the plan was not intended to be a commitment by the county to construct the projects, and that the Board continued to retain its authority to change the plan as it saw fit.

Still continuing his resistance, Bakke exclaimed, "Im not interested in endorsing this as something that we use, most of the reconstruction projects on here are in District Two, the rest of the (countys) roads need work, too."

Again, reassuring the Board of its power to make changes, Voigt asserted that the plan was a tool, "Since you can change it whenever you like, I didnt think it would be a problem."

Commissioner Dahl soon joined in the discussion in support of the plan. "It seems like a good tool. I do like a plan, Im glad he has put this together."

Unconvinced, Bakke retorted, "To me, its a 2001 and 2002 plan, after that it is just projects. I dont like laying it all out and saying that this is what we are going to do."

"It takes three years to lay out and design a project," responded Voigt. "Theres a lot of development time in these projects. Ive had no other direction from the Board."

Despite Bakkes continued objections to the Board officially approving the five-year plan, Commissioner Dahl moved to approve the plan with the disclaimer regarding the boards commitment, but without the official resolution that Voigt was requesting. A second to the motion quickly came from Commissioner Peterson.

Upon discussion of the motion, Commissioner Prestby agreed with the Bakke objection to the priority of the projects in other districts, and joined with Bakke in opposing the motion. However, the vote found Bicknese joining with Peterson and Dahl and a divided board approved the five-year plan on a 3-2 vote.

Recycling Coordinator Sandra Benson presented the Board with a report on the SCORE program review, including a summary of the Household Hazardous Waste Program. SCORE is an acronym for Select Committee on Recycling and Environment, a state program that funds the countys recycling and waste recovery programs.

The Countys Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program includes the special collection events where county residents can dispose of their unused paints, pesticides and other toxic wastes. Bensons report detailed the public participation in these events, showing that the one-day event last fall saw 211 people bring in their hazardous waste.

Fielding questions from the board, Benson explained that state statutes require SCORE dollars be spent on education and raising the publics awareness. Besides conducting the HHW collections in the past year, her department has also provided recycling education in area schools, conducted training seminars for Mn. Conservation Corps workers, and written 26 public education articles for newspapers.

Coroner returns

Fillmore County Coroner, Dr. Lindsey Thomas, presented her annual report to the board on the activities of the past year. For the last several years, the County has contracted for Dr. Thomas services through the Minnesota Regional Coroners Office at the Regina Medical Center in Hastings.

During the year 2000, the coroner investigated 63 deaths, approved 18 cremations, and performed seven postmortem examinations, all at a cost of $39,150.83. Of the 63 deaths investigated, four were accidental and three were suicides.

Commissioner Dahl shared with Dr. Thomas some concerns that the Rushford ambulance staff had with the procedures used by Thomas staff. The concerns involved the removal of personal property and prescription drugs from a home of a deceased, and some misunderstandings about the return of the property.

Sheriff Jim Connelly also was present during the coroners report and expressed his satisfaction with the work that Dr. Thomas staff has done in Fillmore County.

Mike McGrath

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