A recent OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspection of the Houston County Highway Department's Caledonia headquarters has resulted in $2,500 in fines to the county.

On April 23, Personnel Director Tess Kruger told county commissioners that the fines for four serious citations have been reduced by 30 percent (to $1,750) "because of our good faith efforts that we have (implemented) going forward."

Those efforts included signing an "expedited informal settlement agreement" with OSHA to address problem areas.

First, a break room ceiling and a vestibule that were stained by leaking water will be repaired.

Kruger said that there was no current moisture or mold found in the area, so the damage apparently predates subsequent roof repairs.

Secondly, an exit door will need to be added to the main shop.

County staff located a usable metal door with a frame in inventory, Kruger said.

An "obstructed access" citation will be temporarily cleared up by not parking trucks with plows in the shop. With snowplows now coming off trucks, abatement will be simple, Kruger said.

The fourth fine cropped up because of a lack of emergency lighting at exit doors, stairways and passageways throughout the building.

Kruger said she was meeting with an electrician on the problem and did not have any estimates so far for the total repair bill.

Kruger said the county's plan is to complete all repairs before a May 4 follow-up meeting with OSHA.

The fine will be paid from the Commissioner's Fund. Repairs will come out of a fund set aside for highway facility maintenance.

Land rents from a county property north of Caledonia have been set aside for that purpose.

Various gravel bids approved

In other Highway Department news, gravel bids for 11 CSAH (County State Aid Highway) roads and one county-only supported highway (249) were presented by Highway Department Maintenance Foreman Tom Molling.

There were only two bidders. The county sought 16,500 tons of crushed rock for 14 sections of roadway, and all but one low bid went to Bruening Rock Products.

Milestone Materials will provide 500 tons of crushed rock for CSAH 32 for $3,510, while Bruening will supply the remainder for $119,390.

Also approved were alternative quotes for stockpiles that county workers can access/load themselves. Bruening, Milestone and Botcher Construction all offered similar rates for rock that the Highway Department can utilize as needed.

The most important consideration for those supplies is keeping haul distances at a minimum, Molling explained.

For "Class 5" gravel, all three bidders were between $6 and $6.50 per ton.

"The rates are about 40 cents per ton higher than last year," Molling reported.

Commissioners approved low bids for the delivered rock and all bids for stockpiles.

Radio upgrade successful

Members spent nearly an hour reviewing the ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) system with Steve Borchardt of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Houston County officially switched to ARMER on Oct. 31, 2011.

Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter said the system has made a huge difference.

"We didn't advertise this, because we didn't want bad guys knowing, but when we stepped out of our cars with our old system, we had 30 to 35 percent (handheld radio) coverage. Even with our car-mounted radios, there was 20 percent of the county that wasn't covered.

"Now we have 100 percent coverage in Houston County for our mobile (car) units and 97 to 98 percent with our outdoor (handheld) units."

Computerized "trunking" of digital signals has increased the number of available frequencies by several orders of magnitude.

"About 150,000 times a month a radio gets used (in Houston County)," Yeiter said. "That's greatly increased from what we used to have when we only had two talkers (frequencies) to share."

Over an entire year (2011-12), close to two million calls were made with only seven "busies" recorded by the system, Yeiter added.

The total down time for those attempted communications lasted about seven seconds.

Other news from the board

In other news, Houston County Fair Board President Elden Pohlman told commissioners that a sheep barn and possibly a hog barn will be removed from the fairgrounds this year because they are in unsafe condition.