Beginning with the March 18 session, county-produced videos of Houston County commissioner's meetings will be available for online viewing. Information/Technology director Andy Milde set up a small camcorder at last week's meeting, and got permission to do much more in the future.

Milde brought a quote from Ace Communications to permanently install two cameras, a power supply, three-channel video mixer, and wiring in the commissioner's room for $5,888 plus tax. The equipment will record images and audio of the board and persons at the "presenter's desk." It will also include a feed from the power point monitors already installed in the chamber.

The spending measure was approved, 4-1. Only Commissioner Dana Kjome voted "no."

Milde later said that the videos will be available on the county website and possibly on YouTube. Once the system is set up, those "will usually be available by the next day," he added. The equipment that Ace will install won't go in immediately, since the "mixer" which county staff will use to switch between camera views and the monitors is on backorder. The full installation is expected in six to eight weeks.

Another split vote occurred when county engineer Brian Pogodzinski and maintenance foreman Tom Molling brought a request to purchase a new John Deere 333E compact track loader for $72,051.

Pogodzinski said that the expenditure was budgeted for 2014, while Molling explained what the machine is needed for.

"We have a New Holland skidsteer with rubber (tires) which we put steel tracks on," Molling said. "We're constantly taking the tracks off and putting them back on. We do have a need for rubber tires, also... but when I started installing culverts, we needed tracks." Molling added that the tracks on the existing machine have been worn out in two years. Those are mounted over the tires, and when they're tightened up, both rims and tires are sometimes damaged. The new machine has a track-only system, so that can be avoided.

Kjome said that he visited the highway department to investigate the matter, and agreed to the expenditure. Commissioner Justin Zmyewski cast the only opposing ballot, citing the cost of the purchase.

"One Watershed One Plan" endorsed

With county-based water plans expiring in 2015, Houston County may be able to work in tandem with its neighbors to implement a new type of watershed management document, Ron Meiners told the board.

Meiners, as manager of the Root River Soil and Water District, asked for approval to work with five other counties that are included in the Root River's drainage area. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is currently seeking pilot projects for the "One Watershed One Plan" program, with over $400,000 in no-match grant monies available for regional planning.

With over 46 percent of the Root's drainage area, Fillmore County would probably submit the actual grant proposal, Meiners said. A joint powers agreement between soil and water conservation districts would be required. He added that "sub watersheds" can be included in the document, which is important for Houston County. That's because several drainages within the county do not end up in the Root.

"We would like to be in on that ground level," Meiners said, "making decisions and helping them put those types of plans together so we've got a voice in this whole thing."

If the grant isn't applied for, the county would probably need to foot the bill to develop its own document, Meiners noted.

"Over the last couple of years, monitoring and assessing the surface waters in the Root River has been taking place," he said. "With that information, we will be able to set goals to meet our pollutant reduction goals."

The vote to work with neighboring counties and seek the BWSR grant was unanimous.

Another grant accepted

Commissioners also approved a $10,000 non-matching grant from the Minnesota Department of Veteran's Affairs. Houston County veteran's services officer Rob Gross presented the document. The monies can be used for outreach, training and more, he said.

Frac sand mining news

Chairperson Teresa Walter reported that the frac sand ordinance study committee will include planning commission members Dan Griffin and Glenn Kruse.

Donna Buckbee of Yucatan Township said that "bullying" in (and by) the county has become a problem. She cited "selective enforcement of ordinances based on some of your staff's desire to reward or punish," and added that "gray-hired senior citizens, some of them quite frail looking, had the cops called on them just for speaking politely to a couple of commissioners after a meeting."

Buckbee challenged commissioners to "protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of this county" by opposing frac sand mining.

Mike Fields of Winnebago Township also took up the issue of bullying.

"Bullying requires a power imbalance..." he said. "Bullying takes many forms. For example, I felt bullied after I found myself involved in a costly legal battle after having lodged a legitimate complaint against a neighboring mine that was clearly in the wrong. And you, commissioners, ought to feel bullied if someone even suggests (that) the county will be sued if you vote to ban frac sand mining here."