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County appoints members to 'citizen budget committee'

Cook County, Minnesota
Cook County, Minnesota

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, June 12. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
The meeting started with a public comment period. There were five people who spoke during the public comment period about the DNR's proposed ‘Border-to-Border’ (B2B) off-highway vehicle tourin route. Cook County property owner Susan Perrin Schubert and local residents Sharon Frykman, Barb Backlund and Denny Fitzpatrick all spoke against the proposed touring route, citing a fragile infrastructure on county roads and the overall negative impact the proposed route could have on the local backroads and environment.

Speaking in favor of the B2B touring route was local resident Scott Benolken. Citing the positive impacts the touring route could have on the county, Benolken said there are both economic and recreational benefits that designating the touring route would bring to Cook County.

There are two petitions circulating online about the section of the proposed B2B route that is proposed in Cook County and across northern Minnesota. One petition is in support of the touring route, the other is opposed to the B2B.

The touring route will be discussed during a public meeting June 19 starting at 5 p.m. The meeting will take place in the commissioners’ room at the Cook County Courthouse. The petitions, both for and against the B2B, are expected to be presented to the county board during that meeting.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said she would take any concerned residents on a drive of the proposed touring route in her personal two-seat Jeep if they were interested in seeing the route firsthand.

Also speaking during the public comment period Tuesday was local resident Arvis Thompson. Citing a lack of affordable housing in Cook County, Thompson shared a story about a couple who are living in a tent because they can’t find a home. Thompson also shared details about a local family who was evicted from their rental home because it was turned into a vacation rental property. Thompson said she shared these stories because the county government needs to focus more energy, effort and resources to protect local residents rather than focusing so much on tourists.
Land Services Department
Tim Nelson, the director of the county’s land services department, shared an update on the county’s septic loan ordinance  that was recently passed by the planning commission. The ordinance was drafted in 2012 and was amended for clarification one year later. The amendments Nelson brought for approval to the county board were relatively minor, including what county department handles septic loan requests and any carryover of funds should a change of ownership occur where such a loan is still active.

Previously, Nelson said the county continues to listen to contractors and local residents about the effectiveness and flexibility of a local septic ordinance, while also maintaining good environmental stewardship on county land.

The local planning commission voted unanimously on May 23 to approve the updates to the septic loan ordinance amendments, a move the county board followed on Tuesday.

Nelson also shared an update on the county’s tower ordinance. The county’s tower ordinance was drafted in 2001 primarily out of concern for cell towers and their possible proliferation along the Highway 61 corridor. The county’s IT Director, Rena Rogers, said provisions drafted on the county’s original tower ordinance no longer apply today and it was necessary to update the policy.

“Nearly 20 years later there are different concerns, and different thoughts,” Nelson said of the concerns or policies regarding towers in Cook County in 2018.

Rogers said the county has been working to transform towers from liabilities to assets. A new policy under the updated ordinance is to create “communication districts,” which involves grouping towers together when sharing sections on existing towers is no longer an option due to a lack of space. The idea of a communication district is to centralize towers to specific locations rather than spread them out across the entire county. Along with this notion is to promote co-location on existing or new towers rather than have towers only serve one entity.

Moving forward, the discussion remains based on a vision of how to maximize towers as a resource and still respect the integrity of the local environment, Rogers said.

The board accepted the updated tower ordinance on a unanimous vote.
Forest Service
Gunflint District Ranger Michael Crotteau spoke during Tuesday’s meeting about a ‘vegetation management plan’ on the Superior National Forest. The plan discussed involves an area near Devil Track Lake, Elbow Lake and east toward the Trout Lake area.

Board Chair Ginny Storlie asked what the term “vegetation management” means in the context of the information shared during Tuesday’s brief presentation by the Forest Service.

Crotteau said the plan involves studying the age of trees and underbrush that could serve as fuel in the forest. In addition, the plan could involve clear-cutting or thinning stands of trees to increase moose habitat.

There is a public forum on the vegetation management plan scheduled for June 28.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim applauded the communication and healthy dialogue the local Forest Service staff have with the public.

County Administrator Jeff Cadwell opened the conversation Tuesday about a citizen committee created to provide input during this year’s budget process. There were applicants from all five districts to serve on the citizen budget committee, Cadwell said.

Among the applicants, the final nominees were:

District 1: Arvis Thompson

District 2: Mike Carlson

District 3: Jim Boyd

District 4: Nick Burger

District 5: Liz Wagner

The board approved these local residents to serve on the citizen budget committee on a unanimous vote.

The first scheduled meeting for this citizen committee and the county’s budget committee is at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 19.
Commissioner Doo-Kirk has long emphasized the fact any input from citizens would be strictly recommendations and not necessarily have the final word in the overall budget.

In other news from the administrator, Cadwell shared an update on the County Road 17 project. The county was waiting for an update from the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the upgrades to the local roadway, which is also known as Mineral Center Road. Bids can now move forward for the project and Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said this is great news for the residents of Grand Portage who have waited for decades for the road to be improved.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, the audio below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Bursheim about the decisions and discussion from this week’s meeting of the county board.