County to push for overpass

Highway 169 project in Zimmerman among Sherburne Board’s top priorities; Becker Business Park at very top

by Jim Boyle


The Sherburne County Board of Commissioners put some finishing touches on a legislative platform crafted primarily by county staff,and topped off their contributions to it by identifying their top three priorities among a litany of endeavors.

The top priority selected in a Jan. 7 work session was to seek bonding money for the Becker Business Park to help the energy industry redefine itself in and around the Sherco Power Plant in Becker.

Coming in at No. 2 was to seek bonding money for an overpass at County Road 4 in Zimmerman, which once the Elk River freeway project is complete will be the last remaining stop light on a 75-mile stretch between I-94 and Mille Lacs.

Picking the third and final top priority took a little more discussion at this past week’s work session. In the end commissioners decided to put their energy behind a proposed amendment to current state statute to allow a supervisory override to the 24-hour face-to-face response requirement for special situations where a child is safe.

Commissioners placed a lot of value on priorities that were Sherburne County-specific matters and those believed to have the most impact in the community. Some of the priorities to be given consideration for one of the top three slots before falling away were Tobacco 21, increasing broadband in the county and a shift away from transferring the cost of state mandated health care and social services to counties.

They fell out of the running in part because those items already have legs or are sure to be part of the dialogue at the state level because they have already been identified as important by lawmakers and interest groups.

These and other priorities will remain part of the county’s legislative platform and will still be advocated for when the need arises.

Commissioners also directed staff and the Sherburne County administrator to trim some of the background information that lawmakers likely already know and insert Sherburne County-specific anecdotes and information to accentuate the county’s case.

Becker Business Park

The Becker Business Park, a 2,000-acre area, needs local water and wastewater utility systems expanded to be able to support the economic growth that will occur in the near future.

Sherburne County seeks legislative support for a $24.76 million request in state bonding funds for public infrastructure improvements for the Becker Business Park, to include:

•$16.56 million for sanitary sewer improvements.

•$4.95 million for water transmission and distribution improvements.

•$3.25 million for water supply improvements.

Sherburne County got good news on this front last month when the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced it is awarding a Sherburne County project more than $761,000  for infrastructure development from the Transportation Economic Development Infrastructure (TEDI) program.

The TEDI program was created to finance infrastructure projects that create economic development opportunities, jobs, and improve statewide transportation systems.

That money will come as Sherburne County adds a Google Data Center to Becker Business Park. This project would assist in the reconstruction and expansion of County Road 53 in order to provide improved access to the park for the new center. This project is expected to create 50 jobs.


Public Works Director Andrew Witter said the timing of seeking money for a Zimmerman overpass is quite good.

“We would start engineering work and concept analysis (with funding), and might be lucky to have a shovel in the ground four years from now,” he said. “We could be right on the tail end of the Elk River project. I know there’s concerns about traffic movement in Zimmerman once the Highway 169 project is done.”

With the removal of all stoplights south of Zimmerman in the near future, this intersection will see tremendous traffic pressure, Witter said.

“Being the only remaining signal on this 75-mile stretch of TH 169 between 1-94 and Mille Lacs will result in major congestion and safety issues,” the draft platform stated.

Currently ranked the second worst in safety for high speed/high volume roads within central Minnesota (District 3), this intersection is also a major freight and recreational corridor and serves a vital local function for the city of Zimmerman and the county, county officials note.

Supervisory override of 24-hour response

Minnesota law requires that “The face-to-face contact with the child and primary caregiver shall occur immediately if sexual abuse or substantial child endangerment is alleged and within five calendar days for all other reports.” The current law does not allow for any exceptions.

This categorical approach to immediate response requires counties to prioritize immediate responses even when children are known to be safe, diverting investigative resources away from responding to the most urgent safety concerns first.

Sherburne County supports a proposed amendment to current statute to allow supervisory override to the 24-hour face-to-face response requirement for special situations where a child is safe:

“Face-to-face contact with the child and caregiver may be postponed if law enforcement requests the delay to coordinate with a law enforcement investigation, if the child is residing in a location that is confirmed to restrict contact with the alleged offender as established in guidelines issued by the commissioner of human services, or if the local welfare agency is pursuing a court order for the child’s caregiver to produce the child for questioning, provided that any postponement does not exceed five days before contact occurs.

“Contact is not required when the local welfare agency has documented diligent efforts made immediately and repeatedly to complete face-to-face contacts in situations where the child and caregiver are not able to be located, as established in guidelines issued by the commissioner of human services.”

Close, but no cigar: Tobacco 21 on list but not in the top three

Some board members lobbied for various items to be in the top three, including some who wanted Tobacco 21 to rise in significance. Ultimately it was decided the issue will be talked about, and to dedicate a bunch of time to it would be a less efficient use of resources.

Sherburne County Administrator Bruce Messelt called Tobacco 21 a huge moving target in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order to increase the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

Not even all board members realized this federal move was an executive action of President Donald Trump and not legislation from Congress, and added there is tremendous confusion out there on this topic of the new legal age to purchase tobacco products.

“Enforcement of (the order) is totally unknown,” he said. “Even yesterday (Jan. 6) after I sent this, we had updated  information.”

Messelt said MICA, or Minnesota Inter-County Association, an organization representing 14 counties, is proceeding with a  recommendation that there be statewide action — knowing there is an executive order and not a federal law.

The sheriff and the county attorney have already been talking about how to handle the licensing issue that has surfaced. There’s questions about whether to initiate enforcement as it relates to the purchasers or to go after the licensor.

“There are huge unknowns,” Messelt said. “It’s a work in progress.”

While there has been division about whether the council should adopt a T21 ordinance, the consensus of the board has been that any action on the issue should be statewide action.

That sentiment remains.

“The state should align with (what has been ordered),” Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski said. “I don’t want to create pockets of people following (the change and not).”

Some would like to do even more.

“I know there are a lot of factors that led us to our decision, but now we’re sitting on an island of not taking action,” Commissioner Lisa Fobbe said. “I would like to see it as a priority.”

Commissioner Tim Dolan said something to keep in mind is where the county wants to put its horsepower behind.

In the case of T21, that issue already has legs, he said.

Fobbe asked if does have legs. She said she wasn’t sure.

All seem to agree the state should align with the federal government on T21.

Legislative agenda planning for future years to start earlier

Sherburne County Board Chair Felix Schmiesing was in favor of adding a priority for the county that’s not even in the mix.

“I really think T21 is the dance everyone will be at, but this (talk of legalization of marijuana) the one that is going to slip through,” he said. “It will be devastating. I’d rather see us craft an opposition to this.”

Schmiesing added later:  “It’s nice to see this board engaged in this document as much as they are. Even though it does create differences among us, it makes us focus in. These are important issues.”

Constituents can expect more dialogue and earlier in 2020.  Board members expressed a desire to expedite the process going forward. Commissioner Dolan said this year it would have been difficult to do that with the change in the top administrative position between Steve Taylor and Bruce Messelt, but added that he would like to see the board involved in the drafting and creation of this well in advance.

“We’ll be down lobbying as much as anyone, so the more we’re involved on the front end the better off we will be and the more buy-in we’ll have.”

This is the third year the board has approved a legislative platform, and next year’s will be even more definitive.

“I love the process improvements,” Messelt said during the work session.

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