County to be responsible for buffers

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On June 27, Houston County commissioners voted to provide their own implementation and enforcement of State of Minnesota buffer laws.

“The buffer law is essentially a 50-foot vegetated buffer along public waters,” zoning administrator Aaron Lacher reported. State funding is available to the county to oversee the program. For fiscal year 2018, that would provide approximately $50,000, he added.

“I think we are confident that it would cover the cost of the program,” Lacher stated. He also said that the buffer rules will now become part of the local land use ordinances. According to the resolution, county staff are charged with drafting “a rule, ordinance, or official controls, to be approved by the Houston County Board of Commissioners, to carry out the compliance provisions of Minnesota Statutes, 103B.101, subdivision 12a and 103F.48.”

The Root River Soil and Water Conservation District will provide technical assistance, district manager Dave Walter said. “We would bill (Houston County) Environmental Services quarterly for the work that is being done,” he noted.

If the county had chosen not to do the work, or decides at a later date not to provide enforcement, that task will fall to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Environmental Services Director Rick Frank said that “it’s a 60-day process to get out” of the agreement.

The resolution states that Houston County will accept the “administrative responsibility to implement the Buffer Law as the Local Governmental Unit” on November 1, 2017. Walter estimated that no more than 15 to 20 percent of the county’s public waters shorelines are not already in compliance with the regulations.   

Other votes

Commissioners approved a pact with Schneider Corporation (Indianapolis, Ind.) to layer up to 6,200 address points, as well as up to 918 miles of roadway centerlines on “next generation” E911 maps of Houston County. That contract totals $22,220, and will be paid for with E911 funds already collected on telephone bills.

Another vote approved the final payment for flood repairs done by Van Gundy Excavating (Houston, Minn.). County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said that numerous roadways received attention under the Federal Emergency Management Agency-reimbursed contract, which totaled $51,205. The damages (such as washed-out rock) date from rain events in the fall of 2016.

The board voted 3-1 (with one member abstaining) to provide a $275 per month tool stipend for Highway Department mechanic Shane McCabe to provide and use his own set of tools at work. The motion came from Commissioner Teresa Walter, who added that the allowance would be in place “until we come up with another solution.” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski voted “no,” while Commissioner Scott Connor abstained since he is related to McCabe.   

Information items

Bob Goede of the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust told the board that insurance rates for property/casualty and workers’ compensation coverage are down. The former type saw a 10.6 percent decrease in 2017, while the latter (in aggregate) declined 6.5 percent. Houston County will get a further break on workers’ compensation charges, since it’s “modification factor” (a multiplier based on past claims) came in at 25 percent under the norm (.756). That translated into $32,093 in savings. In 2016, MCIT paid Houston County a $103,015 dividend. The dividend information for 2017 should be released in July, commissioners noted.

Ronda Allis (planning director for District 6, Minnesota Department of Transportation) gave the board an overview of that organization’s new 10-year plan. Projects scheduled for the next four years “are pretty much committed (to)” she reported. These “programmed projects” include work on three bridges (over Money Creek) on State Highway 76 in 2021. Further out, MN 43 just west of Houston County is scheduled for a mill and overlay in 2023, a $9.7 million project running from MN 44 to the north junction with MN 16. There is currently a mill and overlay project on MN 44 (through Caledonia) from CSAH 12 to Hokah scheduled in 2025, another mill and overlay on the same road in 2027 (from Spring Grove to Caledonia), and a $1.7 million bridge replacement east of Houston in 2028.

Kallie Rollenhagen of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation also briefed the board. Over the last 30 years, every dollar donated to SMIF from Houston County resulted in $11 being invested back into Houston County communities, she reported. That’s $143,000 in local donations resulting in $1.6 million being invested by SMIF “through grants, loans, and programming for stronger kids, businesses and communities,” Rollenhagen stated.