Houston County commissioners approved another consultant to review the Tracie Erickson Frac Sand Quarry environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) on Dec.18, one week after they were told that their original choice had turned down the job.

Bolton & Menk of Burnsville, Minn., will take on the task, assigning environmental planners to look over the document.

"They have done third-party reviews before," Environmental Services director Rick Frank told the board, adding that the company has guaranteed the county that they will not have any conflict-of-interest issues.

Frank said that B&M estimated the hours required and line-item costs at about the same as Short Elliott Hendrickson, the company that commissioners approved on Nov. 20.

SEH later turned down the job over a potential conflict of interest. The new consulting firm estimated its costs at $355 less than SEH, Frank said.

Although he didn't provide the quote to the board, Frank said the "not to exceed" cost estimate was approximately $13,000.

"They seemed very knowledgeable," Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. He and Chairman Jack Miller attended the interview with B&M representatives.

Miller said that finding a non-biased consulting firm to review the document was "a little like picking a jury."

Runway paving update

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski asked the board to consider adding $20,000 to the 2013 budget to cover the local match required to pave the Houston County Airport runway apron next year.

The main runway will be paid for with FAA monies that the county had set aside for land acquisition along with state aid, he reported.

Commissioners will approve the final budget and levy on Dec. 26.

Pogodzinski said plans for the project need to be in place sometime in April or the county would risk losing $20,000 to $50,000 in state dollars.

Board members asked Pogodzinski to contact members of the Friends of the Houston County Airport to see if the group wanted to help out with the $20,000 local match.

"They may want to take some of the burden off the county," Commissioner Steve Schuldt said.

Highway plans reviewed

Commissioners approved a right-of-way plat and resolution to reconstruct CSAH 8 west of Spring Grove from Highway 44 south to the Iowa border.

"It's about three miles," Pogodzinski said, "There will be about 21 parcels affected and about a dozen landowners."

In other highway developments, the board passed seven resolutions, which will add contingency funds to flood bonding road projects.

"The state has told us that we can go ahead and budget for contingencies," Pogodzinski said. Cost overruns are paid from those funds, which are usually brought on by things like poor soils.

When those are encountered, it means more hauling of gravel and fill, Pogodzinski explained. Two of the projects are complete while most of the rest are underway. One (Christianson Hill Road) will be constructed in 2013.

The contingency amounts average about 5 percent of project costs, Commissioner Tom Bjerke noted.

Annual water & soil grant set

The board approved a block grant from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources totaling $89,155. The money will go towards five programs, Frank reported.

Those include comprehensive local water management, wetland conservation, shoreland management, feedlot and septic system management.

Bulb recycling to occur

The board signed an agreement with the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, which will allow recycling of fluorescent bulbs next year.

Frank said that the mercury in the bulbs is captured in the recycling process, keeping it out of landfills.

In Houston County, 8,000 to 10,000 bulbs are collected from residents, he added.

Utility companies are required by Minnesota law to help pay for the program.

Homeland funds to be used

Deputy Sheriff Scott Yeiter reported that three laptop computers for emergency management and radio programming field work will be purchased with funds from a Homeland Security Emergency Management grant that is set to expire at year's end.

Close to $15,000 in grant monies were to have gone towards the salary of Emergency Management/Courthouse Security Officer Kurt Kuhlers, but have since been denied for that purpose.

"We'll figure out how to spend the money without going over," Yeiter said. "It would be my recommendation that after this year we not participate in the EMPG program.

"The requirements are extensive for Kurt. It takes up quite a bit of his time, including a meeting at least once a month out-of-county, so we have the expense of wages and mileage. There are also some conferences that he goes to that can be eliminated."

Tax abatements approved

Two tax abatements were approved. The first involved the Barbara Colsten estate for $276 of property taxes owed on a mobile home.

The second was for Jimmie Dean Benson of Black Hammer Township, and it involves re-classification of a parcel that should have qualified as ag-homestead. That reduced his taxes by $1,424.