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ATV trail discussed

Fri, Jan 12th, 2007
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Brian Kroning, president of the Bluff Country ATV Club, addressed the county board at its regular January 9 meeting. The club which is based in Rushford has been asked by seven land owners to partner with them to "convert the current ATV/Motorcycle trail into a DNR Grant-in-Aid trail." The trail is in both Olmsted and Fillmore counties. The trail is about sixteen miles long and has been in existence for about five years. Only those people who sign a liability waiver are allowed to use the trail at this time.

If an agreement could be worked out with the DNR, the club would take over maintenance of the trail. It would be open for public use for licensed and insured ATV users. There would be no monetary charge. This trail is located east of Chatfield. The club has requested that the city of Chatfield act as the government sponsor. The trail would be open to ATV traffic year round except during November deer hunting season and during spring thaw. The trail does include a township road which can be legally traveled by licensed ATV users.

Craig Blommer, DNR, explained that current law allows for ATV use on township roads, but only allows them on the back side of the ditch on county and state roads. The trail would not cross any Fillmore County roads, but would cross State Highway 74 in two places. MnDOT has approved the two crossings and a parking area will be established off of "74."

County Attorney Brett Corson likened the plans to agreements for snowmobile trails. He wanted to establish if there were any fees to be paid to land owners and the state of the land owners liability insurance. He questioned what entity would be responsible for enforcement. Corson said that the DNR would do enforcement during the day, but at night the county would probably need to handle any problems. Kroning assured him that this was not a commercial venture for anyone and that no money would change hands.

Craig Blommer said that the trail should be open to class I and II ATV's. Kroning noted that several of the land owners own the larger ATV's and want to use them on the trail. County Zoning Administrator Norman Craig suggested that the current ordinance should be clarified and "cleaned up." Corson recommended that something be provided by the club in writing, a packet with long term landowner leases and a commitment that no money would change hands. Commissioner Duane Bakke noted that this kind of packet is provided for the snowmobile trails. Blommer said that for snowmobile trails the county is the sponsor. He suggested that this information is to be provided to Chatfield and that copies could be sent to the board. Board members seemed to think that this kind of information and clarification would be satisfactory. No board member spoke against the plan.

Craig Blommer stated that during the thirty day comment period, he has received forty-three comments. Five were opposed for reasons ranging from environmental damage with a destructive machine, closeness to a person's backyard, and the crossing of a state highway. He said that the rest of the comments were positive giving ATV owners a legal place to ride. Kroning noted that the existing trail could be changed slightly and widened for the larger ATV's.

Feasibility Study

The commissioners unanimously approved the use of up to $10,000 for a feasibility study for county based purchasing (CBP) to "serve recipients of publicly-supported healthcare coverage programs." The approval was contingent upon the approval of each of Houston, Mower, and Winona Counties who would share in the cost of the assessment. If all four counties agree to enter into the agreement with The Trillium Group the total cost of the study is expected to be about $30,000. Commissioner Bakke suggested that it is important to work with people in the state legislature to get support for county based purchasing. Social Services Director Tom Boyd stated that some of the newly elected legislators may be more supportive and that this could be better for the counties than managed care. Commissioner Chuck Amunrud asked about when the study would be completed. Boyd stated that in order to change to CBP by 2009 that the decision would need to be made by this fall.

Zoning Ordinance Violator Given July 1 Deadline

Attorney Corson detailed the history of a clean-up request by the county starting with letters in 2001. An agreement was entered into with James Ehler of Canton to clean up a massive amount of junk on his property south of Canton in 2003. Then there was a new agreement requiring about $2,500 from Ehler to be held by the county to insure his compliance. Extensions have been granted for medical and other reasons. Enforcement has since included a couple of misdemeanor convictions. Corson asked for the authority to start a civil action which could 'compel' the clean-up to be done in a specific number of days or Ehler could be held in 'contempt.' The action could also allow the funds held by the county to be used to complete the clean-up.

Corson insisted that if we don't follow through, we are sending the message to other people that the county doesn't follow through with zoning enforcement. Zoning Administrator Norman Craig said that the junk is getting cleaned up, but at the rate it is going it will take two more years. He emphasized that in 2001, the volume of junk was really a lot. Craig said that the work will be complete when the property can again be planted with corn. Corson said that if the clean-up were completed, he would recommend giving Ehler his money back.

Chairman Marc Prestby noted that we have an agreement that is enforceable and the time is up. Craig stated that the area is not secure, that Ehler denies bringing any new junk in and that he can't control people dumping. Commissioner Randy Dahl said that it isn't required that he clean it up alone. Corson said that he has suggested to the Ehler's attorney that 'scrappers' be hired to remove the junk, but the idea has been refused. Corson complained that the longer we delay and not do anything, we run the risk of "condoning" the activity.

Commissioner Bakke stated that he recently called Ehler and that he stated that some of the new junk has been brought out of a ditch, getting it ready to be hauled out. Bakke said that Ehler has done a good job in the past year reducing the volume of junk. He suggested giving him a time table rather than taking him to court again. Amunrud agreed that Ehler is making headway. He suggested that a gate be installed in the driveway to keep the public out. Prestby said that Ehler has made an effort to block the driveway.

The board agreed by consensus to give Ehler until July 1, 2007, and then revisit the issue and see if it is necessary to take civil action at that time.

Salaries Raised

Commissioner Dahl requested that the salary amounts approved last week for the auditor/treasurer and the recorder be revisited. The county is allowed to set salaries for newly elected officials as low as 85% of the previous official's salary for that office. However, there is precedent for setting the salaries at 90% or more of the previous office holder. Also, both Boelter and Kiehne were considering using their right of appeal which would cost the county money. The experience of the new officials was also taken into account.

Auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter's salary was reset at $57,150, which is $3,150 higher than it was set on January 8. Prestby voted against. County Recorder David Kiehne's salary was reset at $45,000, which is $1,000 more than last week. Prestby voted against and Amunrud was not present for the vote.

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