County board approves ATV request for Alvwood-Squaw Lake

by Barbara Cameron

Chair Leo Trunt (Dist. 3) was a few minutes late calling the crowded boardroom to order on May 13 for a regular meeting that included a legislative conference call, an ATV public hearing and several health and human services reports. All the commissioners and regular attendees at the board table were present.

After recitation of the flag pledge, the five board members approved the minutes from their April 22 meeting and Trunt listed the 20 items on the consent agenda. These were passed unanimously.

Unique among these consent items was the board’s request to delay inclusion of the northern long-eared bat on the endangered species list. The federal decision is to be made this fall. (In the Northeast, this bat is 99 percent extinct due to white-nose syndrome, first identified in 2006.)

The rationale for delay in Itasca County is the perceived negative impact that protective measures for the bat would have on local forest management and on the wood products industry.

The regular agenda was approved, with an additional item about the fairgrounds horse barn footings added by Terry Snyder (Dist. 2).

Employee recognition was first on the regular agenda. Donna Medure is retiring from her job with the attorney’s department after 31+ years. Jack Muhar praised her professionalism as his assistant.

Three people have moved up in their respective departments: Teresa Kisamore to real estate specialist; Denise Hirt to chief deputy sheriff; and Ryan Newman to chief forester.

Jacob Lindgren has been hired as an engineering technician in the transportation department, while Eric Ziemann has resigned after two years with transportation. Calvin Johnson has transferred into District 2 in the highway department.

Auditor/treasurer Jeff Walker presented commissioner warrants in the amount of $822,927.31, about half of which was for road and bridge. The roll call vote was unanimous approval.

Crissy Krebs gave the first of the Health and Human Services (HHS) updates. She told the board members the county was informed they had gotten all 32 of its quarterly reports in to the state on time.

Their fraud investigator, Libby Peterson, is rated by the state on three criteria: the cost/benefit ratio; completion time; and the monthly average number of cases completed.

On the first two dimensions she is doing well: the state requires at least $3 (she is at #3.09) and she completes cases in eight days (the state demands 15 days or less).

Krebs said the third criterion is a struggle. The state wants 20 -25 cases completed each month, and her average is 12.

Krebs gave the anonymous tip line that any person may use to report fraud: 1-800-422-0312, ext. 2191.

Peterson works closely with Social Security, local police departments and the sheriff’s investigators. This work saves the county, on average, $162,273 per month, Krebs said, but she needs the help of everyone to get the number of completed cases up.

Next was the legislative call to Sen. Saxhaug’s office, where he, Rep. Tom Anzelc and Lobbyist Loren Solberg were waiting.

Three major bills were being worked on in conference committee: bonding, the second tax bill and the supplemental finance bill.

Anzelc complimented the board for their letter to DEED regarding the Essar project, and Muhar responded that he’d received an email saying the request for an extension was now being processed internally. Muhar asked the legislators to advocate to the commissioner’s office.

Anzelc ran down a long list of provisions added to bills that he said would please Itasca County.

These included: $100,000 to help move the gun club; $70,000 to correct the ISD 318-Bigfork High School problem; and the biorefinery exemption from the EIS up to 400,000 tons.

His list continued: term extension from three to four years for the Grand Rapids Public Utilities Commission; repeal of the old Central School commission; and passage of the nursing home bonding.

Also on his list of provisions: they streamlined the process for permitting logging truck tractors and trailers to be done at one time; the new omnibus liquor bill allows home brewers to give free samples; and the host community-power generation plant property tax issue regarding use of the sliding fee scale seems to be done with. (“This has potential beneficial effect for the Cohasset area,” Solberg said, as a pre-emptive strike against a 70 percent loss of property tax base.)

Lastly, Anzelc said there was a lot of interest in his cancer/mammogram legislation.

The land bill is now law. Itasca County will get about $250,000 for control of aquatic invasive species; counties are encouraged to work with their lake associations to use this money effectively.

Solberg thought the bonding bill would have lots of local money in it, including some for Itasca Community College.

Anzelc asked how Magnetation’s Plant 4 was coming, and Snyder reported that they were now up to two shifts.

At 3 p.m. the board moved into public hearing mode for the Alvwood-Squaw Lake ATV Club permit request.

Sara Thompson, from the land department, summarized the background, explaining the need for use of portions of county roads for corridor access.

Trunt asked for speakers in favor of the application.

Highway Engineer Karen Grandia indicated her department had worked with the land department on this matter, and she had no opposition to the plan.

Kyle Boyer, owner of the Hoot ‘n’ Holler in Alvwood, spoke in support. He said the resorters’ customers get two main questions: Do you have high speed internet? Do you have trail access?

He said this permit would help generate more traffic and more money for the local area.

Bud Stone, with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, followed Boyer to the microphone. He stated this trail permit would bring more tourism to the county.

Len Hardy, chair of the county’s ATV alliance, gave his 100 percent support.

A resident from Dunbar Lake wanted to add his support, saying how snowmobile trails had taken tourism a long way in the state, and encouraged the board to give this a try.

Darrel Hecomovich, ATV and snowmobile advocate from Bovey, has a cabin north of the Squaw Lake bridge. He’s looking forward to using trails that aren’t currently connected.

Al Lauer, president of the Balsam Trailblazers ATV club, said they’d gone through this permitting process three years ago and have had no problems. He supports it.

Elmer Cone, secretary of the Itasca County Snowmobile Alliance and president of the Northern Outdoor Recreational Land Use Alliance, which carries the insurance for these groups, said it was very important to be able to exercise legal control over ATV trail use. He also mentioned the safety factor in being able to use the road connectors.

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