Bug bites get the attention of County Board

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Things got a little buggy for Houston County commissioners on April 4. That’s when vector borne disease specialist Dave Geske gave the board an update on efforts to curb illnesses which strike through contact with mosquitoes and ticks.

“Almost 40 years ago, I had the opportunity to begin working with 12 counties, including Houston County,” Geske stated. “Our goal was looking at mosquito-borne disease at that time.   

“There’s a disease called La Crosse Viral Encephalitis, and we had (at that time) a six county area where for a 10-year period, we were seeing an average of 27 clinical cases of La Crosse virus annually (in the late 1970s). Almost all of those cases were in kids. Today, that would be national news.”

Geske said that the disease sometimes proved fatal, although, “We normally don’t see that with La Crosse. But we do see – often – kids that will have ongoing central nervous system disorders.”

Now, the number of La Crosse Viral Encephalitis cases seen within the dozen Wisconsin and Minnesota counties served by the program averages less than three per year, Geske reported.

The cost of running the entire program for a decade is less than the costs associated with a single case of the disease, Geske added. Discarded tires make excellent  breeding grounds for the mosquitoes which transmit the malady, but other “vectors” include wading pools, uncovered boats, and buckets.

Geske also reported on a variety of other diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes, including anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus. Humans aren’t  the only victims. Anaplasmosis (from tick bites) kills about 10% of dogs which become infected.

Later, the vector control manager passed out materials on an invasive plant called wild parsnip, which is becoming common along Houston County roadways. Sap from wild parsnip plants can cause extreme blistering on skin when exposed to sunlight. Surprisingly, “That can occur up to six months after exposure,” Geske stated.   

Commissioners schedule

mine visit

The board voted to ask county staff arrange a tour of the Erickson sand mine in order to prepare themselves for an April 25 public hearing on a setback violation. Commissioners are required to address the matter in order to fulfill a court order issued on February 7.

The board picked April 18 for the visit, which will be advertised as a public meeting since a quorum will be on hand. Commissioners also decided to accept an invitation from member Justin Zmyewski to tour his nearby workshop while they are legally gathered together. That visit will be a chance to see what a limited amount of money can buy when it comes to building a maintenance facility, Zmyewski stated. The board is currently studying options for constructing a new maintenance shop for it’s highway department.

Later in the meeting, commissioners discussed how to proceed with the highway shop project and another longstanding issue (how to fill posts on the Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission) without voting on either.


There were plenty of votes at the nearly three-hour long meeting. Those included reviewing offers from contractors to mow grass and perform associated ground maintenance this year at the Houston County Airport. That job went to low bidder Meyer Lawn Service for $5,400. On a related note, commissioners voted to purchase a John Deere X74 lawn tractor with mowing deck and blade from SEMA of Caledonia for $10,922. That unit will be used to maintain  various county properties.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski also asked the board to approve the final payment for last year’s County 14 paving project. That job totaled $3,085,397. Commissioners agreed to the $30,853 final installment, as well as a separate request from the engineer to pour a new concrete pad at the county’s Hokah salt shed for $4,456.

The board approved a pair of Planning Commission recommendations, issuing two conditional use permits. The first was for Michael and Diane Schmidt of Black Hammer Township to build a cabin in an agricultural district, while the second will allow Gary and Pauline Jorgensen to build a dwelling on less than 40 acres in an agricultural district.

Commissioners approved the county’s 2016 feedlot report, sending it to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Zoning administrator Aaron Lacher said that 8.9% of the county’s 414 registered feedlots were inspected last year.

Still another vote approved a “non-emergency and emergency memorandum of understanding” between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Division and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. The agreement’s stated goal is to “provide a framework for law enforcement assistance and cooperation” between the parties.

The board accepted five “purchase of service agreements” with individuals who provide assistance to wavier clients through Houston County Public Health. Public health director Mary Marchel said that the five help with “heavy household chores such as snow removal and lawn mowing.” The wavier clients are typically older adults, Marchell stated, adding that the program “really helps keeping people in their homes.” Pay for the providers was set at $3.76 per 15 minutes.

Personnel votes included initiating a competitive search for a full-time social worker to fill a vacancy which has existed in Houston County Human Services since last fall. A second ballot approved initiating a “classification process” that will place two social workers as lead personnel, one in adult and disability services, and another in childrens services. A third vote approved an internal search to fill those lead positions.

Finally, commissioners acknowledged the resignation of jailer/dispatcher Cathy Krupa, and approved the probationary hiring of Heather Culvert-Teubert to fill the position, contingent upon the successful completion of a background check.