County sets date for sand mine hearing

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners made it official last week, setting up a public hearing on a contentious sand mine issue. The March 21 meeting also saw the board vote to hire a private consultant to go over a pair of Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs) for two aggregate mines which are seeking permits to expand.

The board will review setback requirements for an access road at the Erickson sand mine on April 25. Commissioners also voted to inform both parties in a recent lawsuit over alleged violations at the facility to present information for their study no later than April 11.

A recent court ruling found that the county’s Board of Adjustment was in error when certifying the mining road as a “legal non-conforming use,” stating that “The Court hereby certifies the property in violation of the appropriate ordinance and remands the action to the county board in accordance with Houston County ordinances.”

Plans for expanded aggregate mining at a Winnebago Valley facility, as well as a request to amend a CUP for the Underpass Quarry have brought the EAWs to the county’s Planning and Zoning department.

Zoning administrator Aaron Lacher brought proposals from two companies to assist with the EAW review process. Five engineering firms were contacted, with Bolton & Menk (Rochester) and G-Cubed (Chatfield) responding. Lacher said that county staff reviewed the offers, and recommended Bolton & Menk for the job. “The consensus opinion is that Bolton & Menk has the most qualified personnel, including a pool of 455 professionals in various specialties,” he reported. Commissioners agreed.

The cost of hiring the firm (quoted at $113 per hour) will be charged back to the applicants.

Board disagrees on


A 3-2 vote squashed a motion to reappoint two members to one of the county’s most influential panels. “We’re short two members on that Planning Commission, and we haven’t set our policy (for making appointments) yet,” commissioner Teresa Walter said.  “I really feel that we should let the two people that are on it, and have filled out the application to renew their terms, be on the Planning Commission at least until December, until we get a policy put together.”

Walter then motioned to reappoint Rich Schild and Dan Griffin to the PC.

“I guess I’d like to see the procedure that we’re going to use approved, and (at least) on the agenda for our next meeting,” board chairman Jack Miller countered. But commissioner Scott Connor seconded the motion, stating, “We’ve been talking about this for three months now, and haven’t done anything.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said that there is no hurry. “As the sitting member on the Planning Commission, I would just say that things are going smoothly, and I don’t think there’s a need to rush it,” he said.

Zmyewski then repeated his assertion that the board should enlarge the Board of Adjustment (now with just three members) before worrying about the PC, which already has five. The BOA has quasi-judicial powers (including granting variances), while the PC advises commissioners on items such as permits, but has no authority to actually enact policy or grant those applications.

Miller, Zmyewski, and commissioner Fred Arnold voted “no” on the motion.

Re-use study, architectural

documentation moves forward

The board approved a proposal from  Collaborative Design Group, Inc. (Minneapolis) to provide a reuse study on the vacant Houston County Jail building, which has stood on the county campus since 1875. The offer also included  working up construction planning and documentation on the historic courthouse building, which may enable the county to secure grant funding for repairs to the (still-used) structure.

The offer included $56,650 for the reuse study, an additional $16,115 for the Historic Courthouse work, and $3,455 in project expenses, for a total of $76,220.

Human Services proposal

denied – for now

Human Services director John Pugleasa asked commissioners to approve three changes in his department: first, upgrade two social workers to lead positions to augment supervisory duties, second, reassign the “intake” position from a case aid to a social worker, and lastly, add one full-time social worker in adult services.

After subtracting for expected reimbursements, the county could expect an additional cost of $12,863 during 2017, and $34,873 in the first full year of the reorganization, Pugleasa reported.

Connor made a motion to approve the personnel changes and paying for this year’s costs out of HS fund balance (with no budget increase this year). Walter seconded, but the motion fell short 3-2 with “no” votes from Miller, Zmyewski, and Arnold.

“We’ll deal with it when it’s budget time,” Miller concluded.

Other news:

The board decided to continue to investigate the option of hiring an outside firm to provide court security, even as applicants for a new sheriff’s deputy position interview for that post. So if commissioners decide to change course on the matter, no applicant will get that job.

Arnold said that the county might be able to save about half of the cost of an additional full-time deputy (which costs nearly $90,000 including benefits, he stated). “If we discover that the level of security provided to us by a security firm is not adequate for what we feel our needs are, I’m perfectly OK to saying OK, that’s it, we investigated it,” Arnold concluded. He later offered to contact Winona County sheriff Ron Ganrude to find out how utilizing a private company to assist with court security has worked out there.

Commissioners voted to reappoint Brian Pogodzinski as county highway engineer for four more years (May 1, 2017 through April 30, 2021). Another vote approved a transfer request from mechanic Rick Vesterse to maintenance specialist, effective April 16. A competitive search for a mechanic was also approved. The board approved the re-hiring of Craig Welsh as a 67 day temporary building maintenance worker, and accepted the resignation of home health aide Pam Mechtel with thanks for nearly 12 years of service. Another vote approve a banding pay scale of C44 for the half-time position of emergency management director. A C44 position typically ranges from $24.15 – $32.18 per hour.

The board also approved a contract renewal for SEMCAC to provide medical assistance transportation services. Another ballot renewed an electronics recycling contract with Dynamic Recycling (Onalaska).