Greenhouse permit denied

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


The Houston County Board denied a conditional use permit Jan. 14 after the water and soil conservation office expressed concern over the project, as have nearby residents.

Sheldon McElhiney, of Mound Prairie Township, asked to construct up to 11 greenhouses on his land off County 25.

Dave Walter of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District visited the site and said the proposal was too vague.

“I had really limited information from Sheldon on width and length and no idea on driveways,” Walter said. “Even a 30-foot-wide greenhouse takes a lot of space – and that doesn’t account for runoff control.”

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said he received several phone calls on the matter as well.

“Neighbors said they don’t mind greenhouses, but they would  prefer them on a more hidden side of the road,” Zmyewski said.

Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said he spoke with McElhiney, who consented to decreasing the number of structures. Walter said three or four greenhouses at tops would be appropriate.

But the lack of a specific site plan remained a concern for the County Board.

“I feel apprehensive; we don’t have a study in front of us,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said.

The board unanimously denied the request while encouraging McElhiney to come back with another plan.


Public comment

Rail use and its potential to produce a disaster has gained new attention due to recent derailing incidents that have resulted in financial, environmental and residential damages. One such incident occurred March 27, 2013, when a Canadian Pacific train in Parkers Prairie, Minn., derailed and resulted in leak of 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

For this reason, and because rail traffic is abundant in Houston County, a group of concerned citizens met with a representative from Rep. Tim Walz’s (D-Minn.) office on Jan. 13 and urged him to address rail transport threats.

During the public comment portion of the County Board meeting, Yucatan Township resident Donna Buckbee informed the Board of Commissioners of this effort, which has since resulted in Walz requesting a hearing be held to examine rail safety.

Walz sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. Read more on page 4 of this edition.


Water plan

Per state law, Houston County must adopt a comprehensive water plan every 10 years, along with a five-year revision halfway through the plan’s life.

The county was due to update its plan in 2012 but received an extension on the assignment because District Manager Ron Meiners was just beginning his tenure at the time. Meiners has since led the local water and soil resources board through the  process and presented the final resolution Jan. 14.

Updates on the plan were limited, and a public hearing was held Sept. 24, 2013, with no feedback.

Meiners said one of the most scrutinized details of the plan dealt with finding out if there were any outside land use plans that might come in conflict with the water plan.

“We don’t foresee anything coming forward,” Meiners said.

The board lauded the efforts of Meiners and the Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

“It looked like about two years’ effort,” Commissioner Judy Storlie said. “It is a really good report.”

The five-year revision was adopted as presented and will serve the county until December 2017, when an entirely new plan must be made.


Electronic waste

A change is at hand for the county in terms of recycling electronic waste.

Environmental Services Director Rick Frank has been researching vendors to take away such garbage since the county’s former vendor announced it must start charging for the service. Universal Recycling had taken away electronic waste – such as old computer monitors –  for free, but due to increased shipping and disposal costs, along with increased demand for such services, the company has had to start charging.

Frank solicited quotes from a variety of vendors and asked the board to approve a one-year contract with Dynamic Recycling of Holmen.

The change will not effect disposal costs for residents, and the contract gained approval.

“For now, all this waste will be covered under the $3 per household per month fee,” Frank said.

Also presented by Frank was the Agriculture Best Management Practice Loan Program report, which allows the county to continue to administer a low-interest loan program for feedlot and septic system upgrades and replacement of non-conforming wells. The report was accepted as presented.


Planning Commission

One vacancy remains on the county’s Planning Commission but not because there is no one interested in serving. Six applicants were interviewed for the seat, and the field has since been narrowed to three. Those three will receive a second interview with hopes of a final selection coming this week.



Several agenda items received rather quick attention during the meeting.

• The first was in regard to the 67-day, temporary jailer and dispatcher roster. Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz said he likes to keep the roster at four to six people, but he’s down to two. He sought permission to increase that number with the hiring of three more individuals and received the OK to proceed.

• The board also made quick work of approving a historical structures report contract with Pathfinders to continue work on securing funding for improvements on the historical courthouse building.

• Finance Director Carol Lapham informed the board that financial reports were not yet ready on the close of 2013. She said her department is waiting for additional information and that details will be shared as they become available. “It should be a week or two before the county gets a summary of how it came out at the end of the year,” Lapham said.

• Finally, a list of 2014 appropriations were approved to the following entities:

– Southeast Minnesota Initiative Fund, $2,700.

– SEMAAA, $2,000.

– SELCO, $130,490.

– Emergency Medical Service, $10,000.

– Semcac RSVP Program, $1,000.

– Semcac Senior Driving Program, $1,000.

– Semcac Senior and Caregiver Advocacy, $1,000.

– Semcac Senior Nutrition, $1,000.

These appropriations are customary and in line with contributions of years past.