By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners inched towards a potential expansion of the county’s public airport on Tuesday, April 6.

The board began by approving a new contract with engineering firm Bolton and Menk (Rochester). Under the terms of the pact, the company will continue to serve as the county’s airport consultants for the next five years. That vote was unanimous. But a second vote – directing Bolton and Menk to proceed with some preliminary work to make way for the purchase of an additional 7.3 acres for new hangers, was not.

“I just don’t see a need for an expansion,” Commissioner Eric Johnson said before voting “no” on the work order for Bolton and Menk to “provide services regarding land acquisition.” Johnson said that many of his constituents would object to investing (potentially) tens of thousands of county dollars at the facility over the next few years, even if the bulk of the effort would be paid for from other sources. Johnson also voted “no” on a proposal passed last month to have the 7.3 acre parcel appraised.

An airport master plan update from Bolton and Menk was presented in March. 

The plan called for the eventual removal of some hangers on the apron, (since current regulations state that portions of the apron and the hangers are now too close to the runway/taxiway), building a new taxiway, buying land to the southeast for hangers and building taxilanes there, and building a county-owned eight-unit “T-hanger” on the 7.3 acre parcel. 

The land would also provide space for another T-hanger (which could either be publicly or privately owned) and five private hangers. Houston County currently owns the land that the hangers sit on, but does not actually own any of the hangers. The lots are leased to fliers, while the hangers themselves are privately-owned.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said that the April 6 work order would total $19,303, with 90% of the cost being paid for by the FAA. The local match of $1,930 may be eligible for some State funding from MNDOT Aeronautics, or another federal grant program, he noted.

The work order was approved 4-1.

After the meeting, Pogodzinski confirmed that the Houston County Airport currently receives $150,000 each year from the FAA, which can be used “on capital improvements and limited maintenance work.” Yearly State of Minnesota aviation funding for maintenance varies, ”but is generally in the $20,000 to $25,000 range.” There are currently 11 aircraft based at the facility. If that number falls below 10, the airport would no longer receive FAA entitlement funds. Earlier, the engineer also told the board that if one of the hangers that is now too close to the taxiway were damaged by a storm, it could not be rebuilt in that location.

Other news

Houston County Public Health director John Pugleasa reported COVID-19 immunization clinics hosted by his department continue to ramp up, with a first-ever Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinic slated  for April 7. “As of yesterday,” Houston County was among the top seven or eight in Minnesota vaccination rates, he added. 

And with both Minnesota and Wisconsin now opening up eligibility requirements to younger persons, efforts to keep vaccination clinics busy – and keep COVID-19 from harming additional Houston County residents, will continue. 

Pugleasa said he expected over 700 doses (of Moderna plus Johnson & Johnson) to be administered by his department during the second week of April.

“We give vaccine until we run out...” he stated. “It’s one of the more gratifying things I’ve done in my career... This week marks a year since the first case in Houston County. It (the vaccination clinics) is really a team effort and a community effort.”

Other votes

A single consent agenda vote approved several items, including the reassignment of Christopher Hartley from highway maintenance specialist to maintenance foreman, with a competitive search for a replacement maintenance specialist also approved. 

Gerry Klug was hired as a temporary/casual technical clerk in the Recorder’s Office. Dennis Yeiter was appointed as a community member of the Parks Committee. And on a related note, a public hearing will be held for some changes to rules and regulations at Wildcat Park. 

That hearing is scheduled for April 27 at 10 a.m., during a remotely-held commissioner’s meeting. The proposed changes include seasonal campsite policies, and the use of lotteries to distribute those sites. 

Boy Scout Tanner Kubitz outlined his Eagle Scout project to the board. With help from his comrades in Troop 53 (Houston), Tanner proposed installing 175 feet of cross-buck fencing at Robert H. Botcher Park to “keep unwanted motor vehicles out of the park,” maintain existing hiking trails and keep hikers safe. The board approved the plan, and will pay for approximately $700 of materials out of the park’s existing budget for 2021.

As low bidder, Scott Construction was awarded a seal coating contract to pave most of County 25  for $233,083. The bid was 27% under the engineering estimate, and the board opted to add the remainder of the highway to the project for an additional $67,580. The total cost is still approximately $22,000 under the amount budgeted for the work in 2021.

Several other yearly highway department matters were also approved. Those included buying 34,250 gallons of liquid chloride for dust control on county roads, plus 37,858 gallons for cities and townships. The unit price was 99.5 cents per gallon. Bruening Rock Products won the rock shouldering bid for county roads for $267,638. As usual, all aggregate stockpile bids were approved. The county will be able to pick and choose where it gets maintenance rock from those. 

Along the same lines, all equipment rental bids were accepted, with actual usage of those offers being left up to the county. Fahrner Asphalt won the county’s crack filling bid with an offer of $21,750. 

That work list includes CSAH routes 5, 21, 26, and 30 for bridges, and CSAH roadways 25, 5, 7, 9, and 18. The pavement marking bid was won by AAA Striping Services, at a cost of $184,015.

Commissioners also approved a $5,000 Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant to continue efforts to control/eradicate Japanese hops along the Root River corridor.

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