Extraction site too close to family cemetery, residents say

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

The Houston County Board decided to hold off on approving a conditional use permit for mineral extraction in Money Creek Township near a 158-year-old family cemetery.

The item has already met plan commission approval but requires a final nod in order to proceed.

Contractor J.B. Holland is requesting 30,000 cubic yards of material for a road project they are spearheading on Perkins Valley Road near the extraction site.

An archeological study yielded no red flags, but nearby residents are not comfortable with the permit’s parameter of 150 feet.

Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said the study did not indicate such activity would interfere with the cemetery.

But nearby resident Lucille Omodt Crow said the extraction will alter the landscape, isolate the cemetery and become an eyesore.

“That much material (30,000 cubic yards) is comparable to a nine and half story building. This means an open quarry pit that really can’t be reconstructed,” Omodt Crow said.

Commissioner Teresa Walter said she received calls on the issue. “They are very concerned about it,” Walter said.

Adam Larson of J.B. Holland addressed the board, saying the company is pursuing another location. “We’d still like to look for approval on this site,” Larson said.

The contractor’s bid on the project is naturally relevant to the availability and proximity of materials to the site.

But Omodt Crow said there’s a more suitable site and willing landowner nearby.

Using another site would require another archeological study at the contractor’s expense and time.

“That road has been there for 100 years. Another six months is certainly not going to be a hardship. If you’re trying to find a solution in the next two weeks that is of grave concern,” Omodt Crow said.

The board agreed to table the issue one week so they may view the site and make  a more-informed decision.


Medical examiner

It’s not everyday the county board talks about  the medical examiner’s contract, but an old agreement is set to expire and the service is necessary.

Houston County currently works with Hennepin County, but that arrangement  is no longer an option as Hennepin is trying to work out internal fluctuation.

In their absence, Mayo Clinic has stepped up to the plate and offered such services with R. Ross Reichard, M.D. in Rochester.

The cost is $2.75 per capita per year based on Houston County’s population of 19,027. In certain cases additional fees will apply, such as $30 for a cremation approval permit and $50 per day for body storage for bodies held longer than three days after examination.

The board asked Houston County medical investigator Mike Poellinger how often the county needs such services, and the answer was about 60 to 100 cases each year.

Poellinger said he believes the transition to Mayo will be seamless in the eyes of the public.

The board agreed to enter a one-year contract with Mayo.


County shop

Perhaps spurred on by a resident’s complaint on the state of the Houston County highway shop, the board agreed to replace two windows at the facility at a cost of nearly $4,000.

County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski said during the winter months the staff has put a thermometer near the windows and watched the mercury drop to 40 degrees. Pogodzinski said they do have money in the budget for such maintenance.

Due to the dire state at the building, Commissioner Justin Zmyewski urged the board to consider selling property the county owns near Caledonia High School to fund replacing or fixing the aged structure.

“We need to free up the money to do something else. Now is the time to consider this since the contract is up,” Zmyewski said.

The county invested $315,000 to purchase the land. A renter currently pays about $8,000 to use the land, and estimates indicate the tax revenue that could be generated from selling the land are around $1,200 a year.

“I’m all in favor of selling it,” Commissioner Jack Miller said.

“We really need to do something about that building,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt added.

The board agreed to put the property on the market and said they won’t accept less than what they have invested in it already.


Bike trail

During the committee reports portion of the board meeting Miller said he attended a meeting that addressed the possibility, or lack thereof, of connecting the Root River Bike Trail with  the La Crosse Bike Trail.

“The possibility of that happening is very slim. There are just lands that cannot be acquired and people won’t budge on that,” Miller said.

An alternate idea is to provide signage on Hwy. 16 from Houston to La Crescent.

“It’s not a route that you would take your six- and seven-year-olds on, but those that are avid bikers do use it,” Miller said.

Such signage has a good chance of getting state funded, but, “Houston’s part is publicizing it,” Miller said.


Closed session

The board entered into a brief closed session hearing to go over labor negotiations with Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger. Upon returning into open session Arrick-Kruger said no decision was made. “We discussed the financial implications for the county,” she said.