DNR to buy more land; churches to be allowed near lakes
Another foreclosed development could become Hubbard County's latest Aquatic Management Area after county commissioners approved the DNR moving forward with its purchase.
The 29 acres on Spider and Crow Wing Lakes in a defunct development now owned by Citizen's National Bank in Park Rapids would theoretically be purchased with Legacy funds and converted to public lands with access for shore fishing once an appraisal is completed.
DNR Fisheries chief Doug Kingsley said taxpayers might be better off once the property is removed from tax rolls.
"The PILT would be two times as much as the taxes paid," he said, referring to a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program that reimburses counties for tax-exempt land.
"As long as we can keep the boat afloat, PILT is a good deal," commissioner Lyle Robinson said. PILT funds have traditionally fallen victim to state budget cuts in tough times.
The Spider Lake Aquatic Management Area "is a great habitat for fisheries," Kingsley told the board. "It has nutrients to filter the lake ... it's a good candidate for protection."
The property has 1,525 feet of shoreline on Spider Lake and 1,300 feet of shoreline on Crow Wing Lake northwest of Nevis.
As more lands are acquired through Legacy funds, county commissioners have urged that the sales tax fund created by an amendment to the constitution two years ago begin making contributions to counties for real estate taxes lost.
In the last two years, DNR purchases of other financially strapped developments have resulted in the Lester Lake Scientific and Natural Area and a large piece on La Salle Lake adjacent to Itasca State Park.
Plastic bag bottleneck
The county voted to spend an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 to purchase a screening device that would divert plastic bags from the recycling hopper.
"It would speed our sort time by one-third," recycling manager Rick Zeller told the board. Zeller oversees the Developmental Achievement Center's recycling contract with the county.
"The express lane is full of bags," Zeller said. "We have to dig into dumpsters four, five feet tall" to remove them. "The bags go down the hopper and creates a tremendous mess. To go through it by hand is really getting to be a challenge."
A specially manufactured device over the conveyor belt would pull the plastic bags onto the belt while allowing smaller items such as pop cans and milk jugs to fall through onto the belt.
Although many larger recycling centers have "bag buster" equipment that opens plastic bags full of recycled items, the estimated cost of those was $175,000.
That drew whistles of disapproval from the board.
Zeller was told to investigate whether the smaller system he described would fit the county's needs or if a larger, more permanent solution should be sought.
"We should really check with other counties to see if this is gonna work for us," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.
"It is putting a band-aid on," Zeller conceded of the smaller screening device.
The county authorized the pending sale of nine parcels of wooded land to be auctioned next month, and once again reviewed the county's timber goals with Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier.
The current plan is being reviewed internally because the county balked at paying an outside consultant $40,000 to upgrade it for the next decade.
The conundrum is that the county's aspen population keeps aging and isn't being winnowed away fast enough, commissioners discussed.
The current plan calls for harvesting 1,200 acres of popple (aspen) annually and the county has actually exceeded that amount. Lohmeier said 6,000 acres of 80-year-old aspen remains on county land.
"We want to make sure each of the (timber) classes follows a bell curve" to maintain a healthy sustainable forest, commissioner Kathy Grell said.
Lohmeier said the current plan calls for converting 300 acres of aspen forest to hardwoods annually, but the process isn't a simple or cheap one.
"It involves cutting, spraying, re-spraying," Lohmeier said. "The cost of manual conversion is expensive. You have to look at the soil types to see what will grow there the best."
Churches in the shoreline
To accommodate the sale of the burned out Velvet Antler restaurant on Highway 34 to a church congregation, the commission fine-tuned its Shoreland Management Ordinance to allow churches as a conditional use within the 1,000 feet of a body of water, considered the shoreland zone.
The newly established Peace Lutheran Church of Nevis has been negotiating to purchase the land and build. But the state's land rules didn't envision a church as a permitted use or even a conditional one when it drafted shoreland management rules.
Ordinarily, an amendment allowing churches, such as Hubbard County passed Wednesday, would go before a hydrologist for review, then to the state for approval.
But board members said the delay might scuttle the sale and delay cleanup of an eyesore.
So the amendment was passed and will be published Sept. 28 without the state review.
Churches will be allowed in the 3rd or 4th tier of development, which would locate them beyond the 534-foot setback, and must not be located on riparian lots nor have riparian rights.
The amendments were made with input from COLA member Chuck Diessner, who submitted suggestions at the meeting.
"The intent is not to adversely affect what is being proposed," Diessner told the board.
"We may tear everything down and build farther back," church member Russ Price said.
The current property line of the Velvet Antler and Whitetail Tavern is situated 550 feet from the shores of Lake Belle Taine, across Highway 34. The buildings are 620 feet from the lakeshore.
Eventually, Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said his department would look at other uses to include in the amendment. He told Price a permit would not be necessary to demolish the burned structure.
The old courthouse
Persistent complaints of mold in the old courthouse, which now houses the art and historical museums, prompted commissioners to spend $1,180 on an industrial-sized dehumidifier.
Building superintendent Lee Gwiazdon questioned whether the moisture is problematic.
In 2009, he reminded the board, the county hired a contractor to dig down to the footings of the building and insulate the lower level.
"The insulating worked well," Gwiazdon. "In my eyes there isn't really a source of moisture in the building."
Gwiazdon said a series of small dehumidifiers has been used in the basement, but they don't regularly get emptied when they fill, so determining the extent of the moisture isn't an exact science.
"Prevention is the key," Robinson said in voting to purchase a large model that would automatically drain. The basement has little air exchange, so the county wants to keep the historic building up.
"We aren't growing mold in there," Gwiazdon said.
The county auction
A recent auction of county equipment and vehicles raised $10,710, $9,932 after commission was paid to the auctioneer.