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Commissioners discuss EDA board member appointees

Cook County's new branding design
Cook County's new branding design

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There was one person who spoke during the public comment period during Tuesday’s meeting. Local resident Dave Tersteeg spoke in favor of a new warming house at the outdoor hockey rink in Grand Marais. It was Minnesota Hockey Day on Jan. 13 and the local rink was abuzz with positive energy. Tersteeg said he played hockey for six hours with his kids and there were approximately 50 people on site enjoying the local hockey rink. Tersteeg encouraged the county board to vote in support of a new warming house and other improvements at the local hockey rink.
EDA Board
Following the public comment period, Cook County Commissioner Bobby Deschampe hoped to discuss the process of appointing local residents to the Board of the Economic Development Authority. The conversation was rooted in the renewal of local resident Scott Harrison to the EDA, a seat he has held for the past six years.

EDA Director Mary Somnis was on hand during Tuesday’s meeting of the county board. She said appointees to the EDA board are appointed by the commissioners and members of the city council. Term length on the EDA board is for six years.  

“It seems to be appropriate that he continue,” Somnis said of Harrison.

County Administrator Jeff Cadwell said it is not required to post these openings on the EDA Board and no one else expressed interest in serving on the board.

Deschampe questioned the fact that if openings on local boards or committees are not advertised it could be a struggle to fill them or find new people interested in serving.

“I would like to see some new faces on these boards, the EDA and the Chamber, and get some new ideas,” Deschampe said, adding that a six-year term on the EDA Board is a lengthy amount of time.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson said there has always been a struggle to get people to serve on boards in Cook County, but particularly on the EDA.

All the same, the current EDA Board, Sivertson said, is doing excellent work at addressing issues the county is facing, namely that of workforce housing.

Board Chair Ginny Storlie said it could be of value to promote or be pro-active when it comes to encouraging people to serve on local boards and committees.

Ultimately, the board voted with no opposition to reappoint Harrison to the EDA Board.

Gravel Pits
Also present Tuesday was the county’s Land Service Administrator, Bill Lane. He presented a list of local gravel pits that need approval from the commissioners on an annual basis to remain active. Lane said ten of the 12 active gravel pits in Cook County were approved by the local planning commission. The two gravel permits that were not given the green light in early 2018 are the LaBoda/Kemp gravel pit near the Arrowhead Trail and the Mathisen Cliff Creek pit. However, Lane said these two gravel pits will be subject to further review in the spring and possibly brought back for further consideration by the planning commission and commissioners at that time. The review of the gravel permits includes an environmental assessment and evaluation. The reviews include an on-site inspection and questionnaire about potential use for the respective gravel pits. Lane noted his request Tuesday from the commissioners was an approval of the reviews, not the permits for gravel extraction.

Lane also discussed a request from the planning commission for a rezoning issue regarding property on the Camp 20 Road where numerous cabins are present in a remote area near the Brule River. Lane said the land ownership issue at this site concerns six separate pieces of property with a very important history in Cook County. There are primitive cabins owned by six family groups at this site, and there are issues regarding compliance of setbacks from watersheds and septic compliance, Lane said. The issue has been ongoing for about seven years between the county and these property owners, he added. The easiest way to address this issue is to rezone some of the properties in question, according to Lane.

After taking on a vote on the issue, the commissioners agreed with this fairly complex scenario of rezoning some of the properties under question.

Community Center
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, Diane Booth from the Cook County Community Center presented information about the local outdoor hockey rink. The Cook County Amateur Hockey Association is hoping to get a new warming house and concrete curbs for deeper ice at the local rink.

The hockey association and community center board are requesting approximately $194,000 in bonding revenue to make these improvements. However, Booth said there are likely grants available to offset some of the costs, which could lower the overall bonding request. This request for additional funding comes on top of the previously approved request from the community center for more than $205,000 in bonding revenue for 2018.

There were several members of the local hockey association present during Tuesday’s meeting. Nate Sheils and Jim Wallner spoke about the need for updates to the local hockey rink, namely for deeper ice by replacing concrete along the rink, better restroom facilities and improved storage for the Zamboni machine. The hockey association is willing to pay up to $32,000 toward these improvements, Wallner said.

Local resident Patsy Ingebrigtsen also spoke in favor of the updates to the local hockey rink and center. She said it would be a huge benefit and asset for improved facilities, namely when it comes to direct access to restroom facilities for youth who are adorned in multiple layers of hockey gear and clothing.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said the warming house can be used for more than the hockey association and local hockey players. Doo-Kirk said an improved rink can be used to promote hockey in the community, with the possibility of bringing more people to Grand Marais to play organized hockey in tournaments and other similar events.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim said hockey is one aspect the local hockey rink is used for, noting that recreational ice skating is another popular activity locally.

After discussion about the improvements to the hockey rink, the commissioners voted to support the increased spending.
New Award
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners acknowledged the outstanding work of Dave Eckel from the county’s maintenance department. To honor his hard work and dedication, Eckel was presented the first ever “Safety Achievement Award” by the county.

This will be an annual award moving forward that the county will present to a dedicated staff member with a high awareness for safety on the job and in the workplace.

“He certainly is a can do,” said Board Chair Storlie.
Highway Department
There was some news on Tuesday from the county administrator about the highway department. Charlie Sawyer was approved by the county board to officially serve as the general foreman for the highway department. Sawyer has been in this role for some time, he simply needed to be reclassified to officially serve in this role.

Following that, the board approved a new job description for a maintenance supervisor and to post the job for this position.
Commissioner Updates
Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Board Chair Storlie and the other commissioners discussed attending the 2018 National Association of Counties Conference in Washington D.C. The event will take place in early March. Storlie has expressed interest in attending this event on behalf of the county. However, the commissioners agreed they need more time to discuss who, or if anyone will represent Cook County at the event.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Doo-Kirk about the decisions and discussion from this week’s meeting of the county board.