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County to host discussion on placing towers up the Gunflint Trail

Cook County Court House and government offices
Cook County Court House and government offices

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There were four people who spoke during the public comment period during Tuesday’s meeting. Speaking first was local resident Nancy Seaton, who is a member of the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee. Seaton spoke about road signs, goals for maintaining the Gunflint’s natural feel and other related topics concerning the roadway. Seaton said the Gunflint Tail was designated as a National Scenic Byway in 2009. Seaton said designations or classifications for the Gunflint during the past decade should prevent excessive road signs being placed along the road, as well as protect it from invasive species near the road. Seaton told the county board that the scenic byway committee has concerns about too many signs planned for, or that are being posted along the Gunflint Trail. The committee also has concerns about guardrails and invasive species, according to Seaton. 

Gunflint Trail resident Jim Raml also spoke about the issue of signs on the roadway. Raml referenced a document created by the Minnesota Department of Transportation that could be of value for the commissioners to review. The document is called “Minnesota’s Best Practices for Traffic Sign Maintenance and Management Handbook.” Raml said the document is extremely well put together, easy to understand and could be of value for county commissioners and staff to read.

Local resident also Don Davison also spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. Davison voiced concern about what he described as “highly classified” medical information that was released by someone who works for the county. The information was released in the weekly sheriff’s report.

“It is a violation of federal law,” Davison said.

Davison questioned the county board if anyone is following up on the release of this information.

Also speaking on Tuesday was Cook County resident Ann Bellman. She spoke about the Sawtooth Bluffs Master Plan and the need to engage in more public dialogue before anything moves forward. Bellman referenced the Hovland dock situation and lack of public dialogue leading up to and regarding that project.

Bellman said she spoke with members of the Sawtooth Bluffs Planning Committee, as well as neighbors who would be impacted by any construction or redesign of the Sawtooth Bluffs area, which is located on the hill immediately above Grand Marais. Bellman said there has been a lack of public engagement as various entities work on design plans for this landscape. Bellman lives on Old Ski Hill Road and said the Sawtooth Bluffs project will impact her directly, though the basic concept of development is not a major concern from some local residents in and of itself.

Bellman requested for a delay of the planning process for Sawtooth Bluffs plan. Board Chair Ginny Storlie thanked Bellman for bringing the information and concerns to the county board.

Information Management report from Rena Rogers
Moving into action and more discussion from Tuesday’s meeting, Rena Rogers from the Management Information Systems Department shared an annual report on what the department does. Rogers said the MIS Department provides and focuses its efforts on infrastructure and communication tools used by the county. Rogers said the MIS Department has largely focused on updating communication tools and infrastructure during the past three to four years. Included in this, Rogers pointed out, was a new website for the county. The MIS has completed, or is working on more than 60 projects with only a staff of four individuals, Rogers pointed out.

Rogers also discussed radio and cell phone tower usage, application and future traffic on these towers in the county. There will be more information on towers in Cook County in the coming months, Rogers noted.

In more news from this department, Rogers and Land Services Director Tim Nelson will be included in a meeting of the Committee of the Whole discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 20 in the commissioners’ room of the Cook County Courthouse.

The meeting will start at 5 p.m. and there will be time for public comment and discussion about towers (radio, cell phone service) in Cook County, including proposed towers up the Gunflint Trail. 

Pat Strand on veterans services
Also speaking on Tuesday was Pat Strand from the Veterans Services Department. Strand shared many positive programs from the last year for the county department. One aspect that could be improved with the department is to improve communication or coordination of events with other local veterans’ programs or schedules.
Community Center lighting update
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, Diane Booth from the Cook County Community Center requested an upgrade to LED light bulbs for the community center. Booth said requests were denied in both 2015 and 2016 by the county board to make this upgrade. In 2017, according to Booth, the community center was informed grant funding would be available to purchase LED lights for the building, only to find out later that wasn’t the case.

Booth said switching to LED lights in the community center will be both cost effective in the long run and there are rebates to offset immediate costs as well. It will cost the county $16,000 to make the switch to LED lights in the community center and after being approved by the county board, this change will take place once the curling season ends in April.
Administrator update
In more county business from Tuesday’s meeting, County Administrator Jeff Cadwell brought a request before the commissioners to approve a joint agreement with Lake County to name Krysten Foster as the highway engineer for both Lake and Cook counties.

Under the agreement, Foster will work at least two days per week in Cook County, as well as being available for local highway staff by phone, text or email at nearly all times.

The proposed two-year contract has a first year expense of $112,000. The county has budgeted approximately $160,000 for wages, benefits and professional development for a highway engineer. Before the board voted to approve the motion, Cadwell praised Foster’s work ethic and level of professionalism and made a recommendation to the county board to approve the contract.
The commissioners approved to contract on a unanimous vote. 
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Myron Bursheim about the decisions and discussion from the most recent meeting of the county board.