A portion of the Swedish Immigrant Regional Trail took a big step toward completion with actions taken by the Chisago County Commissioners at their meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6.

The commissioners unanimously approved releasing the plans and specifications to begin the bid process for construction on part of Segment H, the easternmost end of the trail, with the ultimate goal of completing work by the end of 2020.

This process started moving forward in 2018, when the county received $2.254 million from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources to fund construction on two of the three parts of Segment H, which begins at the easternmost part of the current trail near Rydeen Avenue in Shafer and ends at Taylors Falls City Hall.

In September of that year the commissioners accepted the grant, and in February this year they approved a contract with WSB & Associates, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, to provide engineering and construction services.

The specifications for construction of two portions of Segment H created by WSB call for a half-mile segment of hard surface trail that is 10 feet wide, as well as a 160-foot span bridge, and several amenities – a parking lot, shelter, and gathering area – near Taylors Falls City Hall.

The tentative schedule for the project begins with the acceptance of bids in December, with the project to be awarded soon after. Bridge construction and tree removal would start in February 2020, with trail construction beginning in June.

The goal would be to have the work substantially completed by August of next year.

Auditor’s post to be appointed position

The commissioners continued to move toward making the post of county auditor an appointed position thanks to two activities at this meeting. The first was to hold a public hearing to move the post from an elected position to an appointed position.

After the public hearing, the commissioners were required to take an approval vote that required four of the five commissioners to approve.

No one spoke at the public hearing, and afterward Commissioner Mike Robinson made the motion to make the switch, which Commissioner George McMahon seconded. After a brief discussion, the motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner Ben Montzka the lone opponent.

The next step in this process is to provide a 30-day period where the decision could be reversed. Overturning the move would require a petition signed by 10% of the county’s voters.

The move is being made so that Dennis Freed, who has served as county auditor for more than 40 years, can retire and be appointed county auditor-treasurer by the commissioners.

Community health program released

Courtney Wehrenberg, the county’s Community Health Services administrator, presented the county’s Community Health Improvement Plan at the commissioners meeting.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years working on this plan,” she said. “But it’s important that we’ve taken this time because we want to make sure we understand the communities’ needs, and our strategies are taking us in the right direction.”

Wehrenberg listed four priorities for social programs within the county: adverse childhood experiences, food insecurity, mental health and unhealthy weight.

One example she listed for Chisago County was with farmers who are struggling because of tariffs and weather damaging harvests.

“Our [State Health Insurance Assistance Program] workers are working with a grant from the Department of Agriculture for training to learn strategies to help the farming community,” Wehrenberg said.

She also presented a contract between the county and the Public Health Accreditation Board, which was created to support public health leaders by adopting accepted standards and measures.

“I think the reason we didn’t get as far as we could have in this area was because we didn’t have a program like this,” Wehrenberg said. “We didn’t have something to keep us accountable, to give us guidelines. We didn’t have plans in place, and now we feel we’re ready.”

The Public Health Accreditation Board program, which was approved by the commissioners, will do audits of the county’s public health programs as well as offer training.

Amended Tiller permit approved

The commissioners also acted on a request by Tiller Corporation of Maple Grove for an interim use permit for work the company does on a Sunrise Township site.

The permit would be used to allow a variety of mining activities on 10.6 acres of a new 31.5-acre site on River Road that is immediately adjacent to a site Tiller purchased in the early 2000s. The company has performed sand and gravel operations there since the 1980s.

In May the county’s Planning Commission recommended approval of the request in a split vote and added two conditions to the proposal. One of those, Condition 38, stated that the section of River Road between the main pit entrance and the intersection of County Road 9 should be paved at Tiller Corporation’s expense.

But soon after that decision, the county learned that it had no legal jurisdiction over the road, which instead is the responsibility of Sunrise Township.

As a result, a second alternative was proposed for Condition 38, which stated that Tiller Corporation will be responsible for monitoring truck traffic and would work with the township on the cost of road maintenance.

Tiller Corporation created a third alternative to Condition 38, with states that it will comply with plans for the road but offered no willingness to pay for potential road maintenance.

Commissioner Chris DuBose moved to accept the second alternative to Condition 38, and after McMahon seconded, Robinson asked Commissioner Rick Greene, the commissioner who represents that area of the county, for his opinion. Greene approved, and soon after the motion passed unanimously.

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