On Feb. 12, Houston County commissioners approved a request from county engineer Brian Pogodzinski to select the consulting firm of Mead & Hunt (M&H) for further administrative work at the Houston County Airport.

Pogodzinski said that only two companies applied for the job in 2012 - M&H of La Crosse, Wis., and TKDA of St. Paul - when the county sought request for proposals for an airport consultant.

"This is a process we need to go through every five years for anything with federal funding," he told the board.

M&H has historically served as the county's airport consultant. Pogodzinski said that the firm worked on the recent EA (environmental assessment) study for upgrades at the airport on an extension arrangement, since the project exceeded the five-year timeframe of their last board appointment. The FAA now requires a new agreement, he stated.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt noted that some users of the facility are not in favor of using M&H. One bone of contention is that the company designed what some consider an exorbitantly priced washroom for the airport.

Pogodzinski said that $160,000 was indeed spent on that structure before he came to work for the county, but rumors that it cost $400,000 are false.

Schuldt said that according to detractors, M&H has been let go by a number of airports in the region.

Pogodzinski said that sometimes when staff moves from one firm to another, counties change consulting firms just to keep working with the same people.

"I would like to re-start an airport commission," Schuldt said. Not only airport users, but neighbors and county staff as well as others should be represented, he added.

"We need something that's going to be of value to the airport and to us.

"I really would not want to second guess you on an airport consultant," Schuldt said. "You work with them on a day-to-day basis. It's good to be able to get on the phone and call somebody and get an answer and not be billed to death for it."

Commissioner Dana Kjome asked what the service would cost, and Pogodzinski said that would depend on the contract, which would be hammered out afterwards.

Commissioners were somewhat reluctant to approve M&H without a stated dollar amount, but Pogodzinski said they would be free to reject any contract offer that they couldn't agree with.

In the past, M&H hasn't billed by the month, but waited until a number of hours on a specific project accrued before charging for their services, he added.

"So after they would work on one project, if there wasn't anything more for five years there wouldn't be any more costs?" Kjome asked.

He added that it might be a good idea to get competitive offers.

"We'll work on the agreement, and I'll have to get back to the board," Pogodzinski replied. The FAA does not allow for more than one company to be approved, he noted. Houston County must pick just one company and then negotiate.

The vote gave Pogodzinski the right to work on a contract with the firm, but didn't approve any actual spending.

"We haven't had any issues with Mead & Hunt in the past. Whatever I told them to do, they get it done."

Pogodzinski said that the only large project on the horizon is an overlay of the runway and aprons.

Current FAA software modeling calls for four to four and a half inches of asphalt overlay, but M&H may be able to "get a more cost-beneficial design" approved.

That might cut the thickness down to two or two and a half inches and save a large amount of money.

"The best consultant is going to give you the best design in the end."

DNR land purchase tabled

Commissioners tabled a communiqué from the MnDNR (Department of Natural Resources) on a proposal to add a 38-acre parcel in Yucatan Township to state forestlands.

The property is in Section 33 and owned by Larry and Patricia Van Gundy. The purchase would be contiguous to a bloc of state land.

The board asked for a DNR representative to provide more information, noting that the township should have a chance to weigh in on the plan to purchase the property too.

"Payments in lieu of tax" would go into county coffers each year, but would not make up for the loss of tax revenue, members noted.

The township will receive almost none of those monies, auditor Char Meiners stated.

County approval is not necessary for the sale to proceed, Schuldt pointed out.

Bjerke back on EDA board

Commissioners approved the appointment of Tom Bjerke of Spring Grove to the county's Economic Development Authority (EDA) board. EDA coordinator Jordan Wilms suggested the move.

He forwarded a letter of resignation from Christian Myrah of Spring Grove who has been called to active service in Afghanistan as a member of the Naval Reserve.

Other news from the board

The board voted to support a resolution authorizing the Southeastern Minnesota Housing Network (SMHN) to administer State of Minnesota funds funneled into Family Homeless Prevention & Assistance Projects.

Semcac, Lutheran Social Services LINK, Olmsted Community Action and Three Rivers Community Action are members of SMHN