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Board see-saws on sawmill

Sun, Jul 16th, 2000
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Monday, July 17, 2000

Land use and zoning issues were the dominant theme of last Tuesdays weekly meeting of the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners. Zoning Administrator Norm Craig was before the board with requests for approval of eight conditional use permits (CUPs) and two rezoning resolutions.

All of the resolutions had been previously approved by the county planning commission at its meeting on June 22nd, and eight out of the ten resolutions dealt with non-farm related occupations in the agriculture district.

While most of the applications were approved without much comment, the resolution for a CUP for Dan Miller to operate a sawmill in Amherst township brought on a lengthy, and often emotional discussion from the operators of the sawmill and some of the neighbors of the project.

Dan Miller has operated a sawmill in Amherst for several years. Under a new county ordinance requirement, he has applied for a CUP and desires to expand the sawmill to double its capacity. Miller does custom sawing for Root River Hardwoods, Inc. of Preston, and the new ordinance requires on-farm sawmills doing custom work to be permitted.

The planning commission recommended approval of the expansion with the condition that the operators maintain a 50 foot setback for all stacked logs, lumber and waste piles, and keep standing or parked log trucks off of the road. Under the current ordinance, any construction of structures must maintain a 100 foot setback from the center of the township road.

Two neighbors of the sawmill were present to voice safety concerns about the location of the commercial sawmill on the township road.

Dave Lawstuen, who lives just east of the sawmill, noted that there have been three near head-on collisions with log trucks in the last fifteen months. Lawstuen also pointed out that there appears to be inconsistencies in the countys zoning ordinance with regard to allowing sawmills to be permitted on Category 1 and 2 agricultural soils versus other non-farm development being restricted from the prime agricultural soils.

Lawstuen also pointed out that there doesnt appear to be adequate space between the proposed 50 foot setback and the sawmill operation itself to provide a staging area for parking and loading trucks on the 2.5 acre site. He feels the setback should be greater.

Neighboring farmer Robert Olson, who has lived just west of the sawmill site for 52 years and is opposed to the sawmills location, has kept a written record of the number of log trucks going past his home to and from the sawmill.

"There have been 68 log trucks go past our house in six days, 34 up the road and 34 back," stated Olson. Olson also noted that work has continued on construction of the second sawmill despite the fact that the permit has yet to be approved.

"Wouldnt township road weight restrictions apply?" questioned Lawstuen. To this, commissioner Don Boyum replied that there is a five ton weight restriction on township roads.

Root River Hardwoods, whose trucks represent the bulk of the traffic, was represented at the board meeting by Dick Bahl, who, in responding to concerns about weight restrictions and spring road bans, noted that they judge the volume of truck traffic based on the condition of the road. When questioned about how the sawmill would be supplied on the township road during the spring road bans, Bahl replied, "We havent restricted our trucks, milk haulers dont."

At this comment, all eyes seemed to be directed towards Sheriff Jim Connolly who was present on other board matters. Upon request, the Sheriff confirmed that log trucks were not exempt from the spring road bans.

As voices began to rise in anger, and discussions veered off towards talks of variances for construction which is occurring without a permit, chairman Gary Peterson brought the public part of the discussion to a close and asked the board what it wished to do on the CUP resolution.

"I would like to study this for a week or two" replied commissioner Helen Bicknese.

To which commissioner Duane Bakke replied, "What would we study?" To this, commissioner Bicknese responded that she had not seen the site, and that she might have a problem with the 50 foot clear-area setback.

In the end, the board did not to take any action, postponing the vote on the resolution until next week to allow time for further study.

Larry Hunt, of the countys emergency management office, reported to the board on the impacts of the latest flooding which was occurring at that very moment. Hunt, who brought with him photos of the current flooding, assured the commissioners that the current emergency declaration in effect for the June 1, flood would also cover this flood. He noted that Spring Valley had received eight inches of rain over the weekend and that the sandbag supply was low.

Hunt was followed by county highway engineer Steve Voigt who also distributed photos of the current flooding as it impacted the countys roads. "We dont know yet what this will cost, but it could be half again (what it was in the first flood)," noted Voigt.

In other highway business, Voigt requested approval from the board to hire private engineering consultants to speed up the design process for bridge work in the county. Voigt told the commissioners that it is necessary to spend some of the state bridge funding dollars that have been allocated in order to apply for more. On a motion by commissioner Boyum, the board authorized hiring consultants.

It was Voigts request for approval of well agreements with land owners near the Cherry Grove highway shop that brought on another lengthy discussion. As a result of MPCA monitoring, which suspects future contamination of a nearby private well, the county must drill a new well on the Lichty property, from which it will also receive water for the highway shop.

On this matter, commissioner Bakke questioned why the county should have to pay for any future repairs or replacement of the well if it was bearing all the cost of drilling the well now and paying the owners a monthly electric fee for the shops water usage.

Despite assurances from county attorney Matt Opat that he was "happy that this (agreement) is the best we have at the present time," Bakke cast the only dissenting vote on a motion by commissioner Robert Underbakke to approve the agreement.

In a final matter before adjournment, the board approved contracts for the Fillmore County Sheriffs office to provide police services for the cities of Harmony and Mabel. Under the contract which becomes effective August 1, the Sheriffs office will provide police protection seven days a week and have an officer living in each of the two communities for quick response time.

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