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County prepares for meeting on proposed Seagull tower

Heidi Doo-Kirk
Heidi Doo-Kirk

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 13. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There was one person who spoke during the public comment period in Tuesday’s meeting. Local resident Arvis Thompson had questions about a ‘Citizen Budget Committee’ that was discussed previously by the county board. Thompson said she was looking for an update on this proposed committee and encouraged the commissioners to get started on the planning phase if they had not yet done so.

Highway Engineer
New Cook County Highway Engineer Krysten Foster appeared first during the regularly-scheduled agenda during Tuesday’s meeting. Foster brought a request to the commissioners to approve hiring the ‘Meyer Group Architecture Firm’ to assist with the construction process of a new garage for the highway department in Hovland.  The Meyer Group submitted a bid of $77,000 for architectural and engineering services for the proposed Hovland shop.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Foster explained that she did not have the complete background on this proposed highway garage. County Administrator Jeff Cadwell was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, and Foster said she was given some of the details involving this project but does not have the knowledge or background at this point that Cadwell does.

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said he would like to table the motion until Cadwell returns from vacation next week, explaining his sentiments that the bid is too high for a design plan to construct a utility garage for the highway department in Hovland. Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk seconded the motion to open up the discussion, though she said the bid from the Meyer Group of $77,000 did not seem excessive or high in her opinion.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson said she wished the county board and staff could refer to the building being constructed as something other than “a garage.” The facility will store very expensive equipment used by the highway department, be a fueling center for the highway department and functioning facility used by highway staff, Sivertson said, so it is, therefore, more useful than a typical garage at a family home.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim said tabling this agenda item could delay the bonding process, involve a re-bidding process for the project and ultimately cost the county more money.

Foster did stress the fact any approval of the bid Tuesday does not finalize the plans for the facility or lock the county into an agreement to actually build a new garage at the Hovland site. Foster said there will be public involvement or discussion before any final plans are made regarding the project.

The commissioners approved hiring the Meyer Group on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Deschampe opposing.

In other news from the highway department, Foster explained Tuesday that the county will re-prioritize which of its gravel roads will receive calcium-chloride treatment in 2018. In recent years the county eliminated the application of calcium chloride from local roadways as a means of saving money. This led to complaints of excessive dust during the summer months from some local residents and tourists. 
Air Conditioner for Law Enforcement
Appearing next before the county board on Tuesday was Maintenance Director Brian Silence. The Cook County Law Enforcement Center is in need of updated air conditioning appliances, according to a memo drafted by county staff.

“The room stays between 75-80 degrees all the time,” Silence said of a particular room in the law enforcement center where staff are often present and working in an uncomfortable setting.

“And there are no windows they can open,” he added.

The commissioners agreed to hire Chuck’s Heating & Refrigeration based in Lutsen to install the new air conditioner unit. The installation of a new air conditioner for the law enforcement center will cost approximately $7,700 plus some additional expenses for electrical work, according to Silence. The electrical expenses should be approximately $200 or $300 for a total cost of $8,000.

The commissioners approved the request on a unanimous vote.

Auditor-Treasurer Report
Up next, Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers brought forward several financial requests for various projects throughout the county. Up first was a bid that Powers and Grand Marais City Councilman Tim Kennedy shared information on regarding a connector bicycle path between Lutsen and Tofte. This is a mountain bike trail and the work will be completed by Rock Solid Trail Contracting. Funding for the $445,000 project will come from state legacy program and federal recreational trail funds. Kennedy said only one bid came in regarding this project and it came in at double the projected cost. Therefore, Kennedy made the recommendation that only a portion of the trail is completed under the current bid. However, several of the commissioners expressed concern about the price of the bid and the county’s role in the project, both during construction and in maintenance afterward. After a lengthy discussion on these specifics, the county board voted to approve the motion.  

Following the approval of the motion regarding the mountain bike trail project, Powers presented an update on the outdoor ice skating and hockey rink at the community center. The request Tuesday was to approve a resolution allowing Cook County to receive funds from the IRRRB for the redevelopment of the outdoor rink. IRRRB agreed to provide more than $76,000 toward the project, which comes with an overall projected price tag of more than $440,000.

In another update on the local ice rink, the county board also approved to hire Becker Arena Products to install rink boards, concrete curbs and other features at the location, contingent upon the entire rink update project moving forward during the upcoming bonding cycle.
Commissioner Updates
In more discussion from Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Bursheim reported that the Policy Committee for the Lake Superior North Watershed has agreed to provide funding and support for the Grand Marais stormwater management project. Individuals from both Cook and Lake Counties were involved in supporting this project, Bursheim noted.

In more county news, Bursheim reported that the county will be receiving more funding in the form of Payment in Lieu of Taxes from the federal government this year.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Doo-Kirk mentioned a meeting on Tuesday, April 10 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center at the Gunflint Trail Fire Hall #1 in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area. The purpose of the meeting will be to collect input and share information about a proposed ARMER tower project at Seagull Lake.

To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk talking about the decisions and discussion from this week’s meeting of the county board.