On May 14, Houston County commissioners approved a proposal from Robert Vogel, managing partner of Pathfinder, CRM of Spring Grove.

Based on hourly fees not to exceed $3,500, the company will prepare a preservation plan for the vacant 138-year-old Houston County Jail, along with an assortment of related tasks.

Those include assembling information on the structure including plans, photographs, architectural and engineering documents, historical records, providing a "detailed narrative description of existing conditions," and meeting with county staff to review current plans and budgets for building maintenance and repairs.

Vogel told board members that even if the county decides to demolish the building, the preservation plan would be required for an EAW (Environmental Assessment Worksheet).

Pathfinder CRM will deliver the report in just weeks, prior to a June 21 deadline for a Minnesota Historical and Cultural (Legacy) Grant. Some of those monies (up to $7,000) are given without a local match requirement, Vogel said.

The Spring Grove company included grant writing in the proposal, so step two could entail a Historic Structure Report, financed by state dollars.

"On paper, we could run the table and have the state be your partner on what you intend to do," Vogel said. That's because a mid-sized ($7,001 to $49,999) or large ($50,000+) Legacy grant could eventually help to pay for the third stage, an "Adaptive Reuse Study."

One commissioner (Dana Kjome) abstained from the vote, stating that he works with Vogel on the Spring Grove Planning Commission.

Frac sand discussed

Houston Township resident Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer addressed the board during the time set aside for public comment.

"I am blessed to be a lifelong resident of Houston County," Frauenkron Bayer said. "Six generations of our family have hunted her bluffs and fished in her streams."

"We do not want what has happened in western Wisconsin, without proper regulation of the frac sand industry, to happen here in Houston County.

"Coming from a family farm, we have always known it isn't just 'good fences that make good neighbors.' Good land use regulations are of paramount importance, which is why we are relying on you.

"We are asking you to take the long-term look at things. What do we want our county to be like in twenty years? We want you to think about the next six generations of our families living where we have been blessed to live.

"Not having those generations' futures messed up because properly stringent regulations were not put in place now (is important)."

Bayer cited retired state legislator Virgil Johnson, who she said worked "tirelessly throughout his long career to protect Minnesota's groundwater."

Johnson, she reminded the board, hailed from Houston County and sat as a county commissioner for 18 years. Groundwater protection is a key element of frac sand mine regulation, Bayer said.

Other news from the board

The board approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for Gordon Meyer of Mayville Township to build a house on less than 40 acres in an agricultural district.

Adequate road frontage, percolation testing and Class 4 soils (greater than 12% slope) make the application appropriate, Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan reported.

Commissioners raised fees for county staff to perform research for private individuals from $22.47 per hour to $24.65 in order to cover wages and benefits for employees.

Budget amendments for Human Services, the Houston County EDA and Wildcat Park were passed.

The park will receive $22,000 in fund balance for improvements. That's the approximate amount that the facility raised last year.

The EDA's salary expenditure line will be shifted to cover CEDA contract charges. The same budget line will also cover changing an IT position from part to full-time.

Human Services line items will be updated to properly divide salary expenditures between different programs, Finance Director Carol Lapham said.