Houston County commissioners voted to accept the low bid on a sizable road reconstruction project on Nov. 27.

The CSAH 25 project runs between Highway 16 and the Root River Bridge to the north.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said the engineer's estimate for the project was $876,275.

J.B. Holland Construction of Decorah, Iowa, was awarded the job at $726,932. Pogodzinski said the only other bid was approximately $50,000 higher.

The board also accepted a grant agreement with the State of Minnesota that will pay most of the CSAH 25 project's cost.

State Flood Relief Bonds contribute $404,735 towards the roadwork.

A second grant agreement from the same source was also signed by commissioners. That project involves repairs to two bridges on Day Valley Road (Mound Prairie Township) and the grant monies total $441,160.

Finally, a set of bids for a project on Christianson Hill Road were rejected. Pogodzinski said that no offers came in within the cost estimate, so the specifications for a "soil slope wall" should be altered (lowered by four feet) to bring the totals down.

Commissioners agreed to exercise their right to reject all bids and re-bid that job.

CUPs approved,

permits discussed

The board passed a conditional use permit (CUP) for J.B. Holland on behalf of landowners Jeff Beckman and Lucille Omodt-Crow, allowing mineral extraction in an agricultural district.

Holland will be allowed to move approximately 30,000 cubic yards of "shale" for the Perkins Valley Road project. There was no discussion before the vote.

A renewal of CUP No. 262 (Travis Zenke of Zenke Partnership) passed as well.

Zoning administrator Bob Scanlan said the permit for "substantial land alteration in a shoreline district" was first approved in December of 2006 and is renewed yearly.

Zenke is allowed to remove topsoil on a property in the Root River Valley between Hokah and La Crescent, Scanlan explained.

The work is required to remain in accordance with a plan filed with state and federal agencies, Environmental Services director Rick Frank told commissioners, since it lies within a wetland.

The board approved 19 already-issued building permits. Only one drew any comments.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said that the new confinement barn for Scott Sanness of Wilmington Township had resulted in numerous phone calls from citizens concerned that Sanness might use the building to expand his hog operation.

Scanlan said the animal-unit count will remain the same, and that the numbers of hogs in other buildings will be reduced.

"The companies and people that own these hogs do not want to cram (more) hogs into the barn because of health reasons," Scanlan said. "In fact, they'll pay more to limit the number of hogs in the hog barn."

When Chairman Jack Miller asked how animal units (AU) are tracked, Scanlan said that it was his responsibility as county feedlot officer, and that he would call in regional staff from Rochester if an inspection was called for.

Sanness has a state permit for 1,500 AU or 1,900 AU as Houston County measures hogs.

Besides Sanness' structure, two other barns and a barn addition are included in the list of permits. There are also two new homes, several pole sheds, utility sheds and additions to homes and agricultural buildings.

Vehicles for state employees?

Department of Corrections administrative assistant Denise Schaffer asked the board to allow two probation officers who are state employees to use county vehicles.

"The goal would be to save the county some money with regards to mileage," she said.

Currently, Houston County contracts with the State of Minnesota for the employees' services. When they need to attend on-the-job meetings, they are reimbursed at the federal standard (55.5 cents per mile), Schaffer said.

Those charges are paid by the state and then billed to Houston County.

"The two agents will be doing a tremendous amount of traveling in the next year for training, meetings, that sort of thing," Schaffer said.

"If they were allowed to use a county vehicle, that would be less expensive than driving their own vehicles," she concluded.

Commissioners agreed and voted to allow the practice after checking an emailed response on the matter from their insurance carrier, the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust.

Personnel/staffing changes

The board voted to reinstate Judy St. Mary as transport officer for the Sheriff's Department. The 67-day temporary position is as needed, Commissioner Teresa Walter noted.

Another 67-day temporary hire was also approved. Michael Rasmussen will replace one of four temporary jailer/dispatchers who were hired on Oct. 2 who was not "a good fit for the position," Human Resources technician Ann Diersen reported.

Finally, commissioners approved changing the employment status of Deputy Steven Garrett from probationary to regular, effective Dec. 5. That is Garrett's one-year anniversary with the department.

Frac sand ordinance closer

Commissioners discussed the sample frac sand mining ordinance that is taking shape during weekly meetings of the Frac Sand Study Committee.

Miller noted that county staff will need to be able to show discretion when enforcing items such as decibel limits.

Limiting the number of active frac sand mines in the county is another hotly contested item.

"I don't want 100 mines in the county," Commissioner Tom Bjerke said.

"There's people who want to stop it (entirely) and those who want it unlimited," Miller added.

Bjerke said that the environmental assessment worksheet process would ideally take care of mine density concerns and the impact of truck traffic, but any attempt to limit the placement and number of mines needs to pass legal hurdles.

He noted that county officials will meet with their land-use attorney later in the week.

Another part of the ordinance will address the use of flocculants.

Bjerke said that if the county bans their use by mines, it may need to make an exception for wastewater treatment plants.

Another question is how far mines will be sited from waterways.

Bjerke said that expert advice must be sought, rather than just picking an arbitrary figure.