Township cemetery issue put to rest

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

A conditional use permit to extract materials near a cemetery was put to rest when the Houston County Board decided to deny the request Oct. 30.

Contractor J.B. Holland requested 30,000 cubic yards of material for a road project they are spearheading on Perkins Valley Road. An archeological study on the property yielded no red flags, but nearby residents were not comfortable with the permit’s parameter of 150 feet from a family cemetery.

The cemetery holds graves dating back to 1854 through 1911. Money Creek Township Chair Dale Omodt said such mining would also permanently destroy a bluff.

“If you destroy that much quantity it’s really going to be an unsightly thing forever, and it’s totally unnecessary,” he said.

Omodt said he wished the contractor would have come to the township first. “We would have steered them away from the site because of location near the cemetery, and there was a more suitable site to the east. We get a feeling that this is the bully big brother way of doing business. It’s really disheartening,” Omodt said.

The item was approved by the Houston County Plan Commission earlier in the month despite the fact that township residents voiced their concerns then.

“We do ask the plan commission to deal with these kind of issues, and 90 percent of the time we agree with their decision, but we also have another level of government here we need to show respect to. We don’t want to be overriding township wishes,” Commissioner Jack Miller said.

The sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Justin Zmyewski. “I’ll always back a township that’s in my district,” he said.

With that, the board denied the conditional use permit.

Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said the decision will hold water as long as it’s based on a set of findings listed on the conditional use permit application. The board said they are confident their decision is justified.

Interestingly enough, paperwork for two other borrow sites has been submitted to the county by J.B. Holland. In that light, they will have to pay for another archeological study.


Victim services

For a third time County Attorney Jamie Hammell spoke to the board regarding the loss of state funding for the victims services program and the need to find a way to absorb that position somewhere in the budget.

With the board’s nod, Hammell has requested a contribution from area towns, and reported that La Crescent came through with shining colors. The town was asked to contribute $3,500 but pledged $5,000 worth of support. The Caledonia City Council tabled the request Oct. 22 saying they want to know if townships would contribute.

Hammell has plans to attend their next meeting.

She also presented a letter from a former victim that lauded the victim services program and its current coordinator, Michelle Herman. The program prepares  victims for court appearances and also helps them understand the process.

“These victims are typically very fearful and scared,” Hammell said, adding, “We were very lucky for 20 years and now it’s Houston County’s turn to step up and show victims we support them.”

The position requires about $29,660.

The commissioners expressed supportive sentiments toward the proposal.

Zmyewski said, “Government is about prioritizing, and in my opinion this is a priority.”

“I think we all feel the same. It’s a very important part of our criminal system. We need to step up for victims, too,” Commissioner Tom Bjerke said.


EAW on sand mine

Staying on theme with budget concerns, Environmental Services Director Rick Frank reported that he has contacted four different consultants that would be qualified to perform an unbiased review of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet being prepared by Minnesota Sands on the Erickson sand mine.

“I’ve been turned down twice just because they do have connections with what’s going on on these sites. Two others will get back to me,” Frank said.

He also noted that such a service will cost and will need to be considered as the board combs over budgets.

In a related matter, Miller said the frac sand study committee is getting closer to  preparing draft ordinances to regulate sand mining in the county.

“I can’t emphasize enough we’re trying to do it right and make it enforceable, legal and tight,” Miller said. He also admitted that with every line they create, another question typically comes up.


Meth lab

Not to be outdone by unexpected expenses, Public Health Director Deb Rock said the meth lab trailer that existed at 1017 Sunrise Lane has been moved off site and is awaiting asbestos abatement.

The contractor taking care of the asbestos told Rock they will have to completely remove the roof, which has brought new concerns over the stability of the structure and moving it to its final disposal site.

“I feel the county taxpayer is a victim of this nonsense,” Miller said.

“We’re very lucky this wasn’t a whole house. These are items that are not in anybody’s budget,” Frank added.


New hires

The county will welcome two new social workers after the board approved the hiring of Melissa Forth at $17.89 per hour and Susan Rocker-Wittkopp at $18.79 per hour.

Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger said their selection was competitive in nature and both come well qualified.

Forth will focus on children’s mental health issues, and Rocker-Wittkopp will focus on child protection work.

The positions are budgeted for – after a reshuffling of a few vacant positions – and some state aid helps reimburse the expense.

“As expensive as it is to add staff, or keep fully staffed, it is a necessity to provide services to our constituents. If we don’t provide the services to state standards, there are some severe repercussions: first, another county stepping in, or, second, the state stepping in,” Miller said.



In final business the board approved a five-year bridge replacement list provided by County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski. The list helps Houston County stay at the forefront of state aid opportunities. An updated list is produced each fall, and the item met no objections.