By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners once again proceeded with their highway headquarters/shop project on Tuesday, November 10.

The project was temporarily stalled as the board negotiated with City of Caledonia officials over who would pay for a new water main loop to service the facility. But on Monday, November 9, city council members agreed to a plan which addresses that issue, and the county board quickly followed suit. The county will pay two-thirds of the cost of constructing the loop, while the city will provide one third of the estimated $126,446 price tag. The improved main will not only be able to deliver more water to the county shop, it will also provide enhanced flow to current users located along the line, as well as future customers. A formal contract is still being drafted for the cost-share pact by Caledonia’s city attorney.

With that issue settled, the Caledonia City Council also granted the permits and setback variances needed for the project to move forward.

In other highway shop news, two offers from the initial bid package were accepted. The first came from American Buildings Company of El Paso, Illinois. That company will supply the pre-engineered metal building (installation and fixtures not included) for the project at a cost of $384,010. The second bid was for site work (such as demolition, excavation and backfilling to grade for footings and foundations) which will cost $974,770. The low bidder was Fraser Construction Co. of Rochester, Minn. The total estimated construction budget for the project (including a list of new equipment to outfit the new facility) currently stands at $7,173,869.

COVID update:

Public health supervisor Heather Myhre reported that Houston County is experiencing a substantial uptick in COVID-19 cases. Her department is busy helping to keep local schools appraised on the case rate, while also contacting persons who may have been exposed to the disease.

“One thing that we really want people to be mindful of, even though we’re many months into this and people get fatigued... (is) the guidance and things that go into protecting ourselves and protecting others,” Myhre said. “Just be mindful of where you’re going, wearing a mask, washing your hands. Just be diligent with those things. Especially heading into the holiday season. If people aren’t feeling well, don’t go (visit others)...

“The other thing we’ve been working on is vaccine planning with MDH (the Minnesota Department of Health)... We do have a mass-dispensing plan for Houston County.” 

With a limited shelf life, the vaccine which is likely to emerge from trials may require ultra-cold storage (colder than -30 degrees), the supervisor added. Vaccination planning will be done in conjunction “with our health care partners,” she said.  

At the time of the meeting, Houston County had a cumulative total of 372 COVID-19 cases with two deaths. Myhre also said that the county has seen cases from one year of age to 98. “I would say that when we get 15-16-17 new cases a day, that’s a lot for a county our size,” she noted.  

Later, the board approved allowing two county employees who are in quarantine (but not testing positive) after being exposed to a recently-detected case to perform some vital tasks after-hours at the historic courthouse. The work is for mandated election canvassing. Those persons are expected to keep masks on, limit the areas they venture into, keep hands washed, and sanitize the work area afterward. The auditor/treasurer’s office will also experience some additional challenges, with a number of employees in quarantine while second half property taxes are being processed.

Other news

The board accepted a $23,175 grant from the Arlyn Falck Foundation. Those dollars are for Houston County Airport projects, including a new chip reader for the fueling station, culvert lining for a pipe  that is under the runway, and $6,000 to help pay for an environmental study needed before the county could purchase additional land for future hangers. But commissioners decided to forgo the last item for the time being and set aside those dollars. On a related note, the board approved a new farmland lease for some county owned land near the airport. Jamie Burg was awarded the right to farm those 17.6 acres for $2,221 per year. The lease runs from April of 2021 to December of 2025.

Commissioners also voted to vacate a portion of right-of-way which once bordered county road 17. The land in Winnebago Township is near and East of Engen Road. County engineer Brian Pogodzinski told the board that CSAH 17 was realigned back in 1976, and the county now has no need of the ROW. The action taken was in response to a request from TJB Farms, LLC.

County fees for 2021 were approved, but not without some disagreements. The board first voted 3-2 to dismiss a proposal to charge residents along county gravel roadways for chloride dust control applications. Commissioner Bob Burns stated that county gravel roadways typically carry much more traffic than township gravel roads, so the county should continue to provide the applications without charging those residents. But commissioners Greg Myhre and Eric Johnson voted in favor of charging for the treatments. Townships generally charge varying amounts for chloride along gravel roads, Myhre stated, adding that those who live along county roads should also pay for the applications if they want them. Then, by a 4-1 ballot (with Myhre dissenting), the board also voted to adopt the rest of the fee schedule, which includes a new charge of $100  for septic permits for modifications being made to existing systems. 

Another vote raised the solid waste program fee charged to cities and townships from $3.50 per month per household to $3.75. Another 25 cent per month increase is tentatively slated for 2022.

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