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Hubbard County Board votes to authorize environmental lawsuit appeal

Hubbard County officials are from left: Coordinator Deb Thompson and commissioners Dick Devine, Lyle Robinson, Greg Larson, Kathy Grell and Cal Johannsen. The board meets the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the courthouse at 9 a.m. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Hubbard County board voted 4-1 Wednesday to authorize the filing of an appeal in an environmental case it lost last month.

District Judge Paul Rasmussen ruled against Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment, which granted a variance for a Fifth Crow Wing resort converting to a Planned Unit Development.

The variance board had allowed the PUD to have eight more dock slips than the ordnance allowed. Rasmussen ruled in doing so, the board violated the shoreland ordinance.

"It's a statewide issue," said county attorney Don Dearstyne. "I believe the District Court erred in its analysis and other than that I won't say any more on that.

"We believe there was an error there and it has statewide significance."

The county's insurer retained legal counsel that represented the county's interests. Scott Anderson, a land use attorney, participated in the closed door meeting via telephone to urge the county appeal. Rasmussen had nullified the variance in his ruling.

"We are disappointed by Hubbard County's refusal to accept Judge Rasmussen's ruling on this matter," said the plaintiff's attorney Brian McCool.

"We remain confident in the judicial process, though, and will respond as necessary if and when the County moves forward with its appeal."

Members of the Middle Crow Wing Lake Association, lake resident Ed Mutsch and the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations filed suit, maintaining the board had violated both the law and its own policies in awarding the variance.

At least two bills dealing with variances are before Minnesota legislators this session.

New county board member Kathy Grell was the lone dissenting vote in authorizing the county's appeal.

In other business, the board:

n Heard citizen concerns about fungicide spraying of local potato crops.

Resident Carol Ashley said the fungicides sprayed on potato crops bothers her annually and her neighbors.

The fungicide used by Lamb Weston RDO has a "high particulate matter" that permeates the ground and air near the fields, Ashley maintained. RDO doesn't use herbicides.

"People suffer cold and flu symptoms all summer long," Ashley told the board. "I'm very sensitive to it."

But she said she has not contacted RDO personally.

"I would want you to do it," she told the board. She did file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, she said.

RDO farm manager Randy Fleishauer, contacted Thursday, said he welcomes the opportunity to discuss the spraying with residents. He said he's spoken to the Ag Department about the spraying. The fungicide used is one of the least harmful to humans, he said. Stronger fungicides "are incorporated with ground material."

"If people have problems I wish they would call me," Fleishauer said. "You know most of the time we can explain to them why we do it and in this case the Department of Ag was called. In fact, I just talked to them."

Testing found two spots of fungicide droplets in the region, but none near Ashley's home, he said.

"Each incidence if any is so individual," Fleishauer said. "Many times it's the noise that's the complaint or the disturbance on a weekend and they don't understand why we can't do it another time and that kind of thing.

"Early in the morning are when the winds are down and it has to be," Fleishauer said.

The board promised to follow up on the complaint; Fleishauer said he would be willing to meet with the concerned residents any time.

Resident Carter Hedeen said local monitoring of the spraying is a matter of "getting the political will to do the testing."

n Took up the issue of overtime again with Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes. The department's overtime hours rose again in February. Aukes said the Community Fishing Derby and snowmobile patrols accounted for much of that time while the department has been short-staffed for months. One officer is out with back problems; another has been placed on leave. And officers exposed to the elements get sick in winter, the sheriff said.

Aukes said to the best of his ability, he's using part-time deputies to fill the holes, but increased DWI enforcement is also keeping officers on the job longer.

Some of their overtime hours are reimbursed with grant funds, he said.

Aukes was also given permission to implement a "sliding fee scale" for the county jail.

If an outside county houses one to four inmates, the rate would be the standard $46 per day; with five to nine inmates the rate would drop to $44 a day; with 10 or more inmates the cost would go to $42 a day.

And the board authorized the Explorer program to purchase a used Suburban from the Nevis School District, once liability issues were ironed out. The squad, which trains high school students for careers in law enforcement, would use the vehicle to attend competitions and has enough money, $1,200, to buy it without county funds.

Two commissioners, Dick Devine and Cal Johannsen, will work with the department on the purchase of new narrowband radio equipment. To date the department has $89,000 in grant funds, Aukes told the board.

A statewide conversion to narrowband radio must be completed by January 2013.

n Authorized Hubbard County Social Services to enter into an agreement with Kinship for social and recreational services for children at risk.

It will "reduce the commitment of at-home costs by using Kinship," Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said of the volunteer mentoring program. "Children in protective situations are missing a role model," he said.

Income maintenance cases that are requests for food, cash and medical assistance rose again in February by 36 cases, Bessler told the board.

But monthly intakes, the actual processing of initial requests, dropped 29 cases. That may be because most eligible residents are already receiving services, the department theorizes.

n Approved a step increase for Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Frieden effective March 20. Frieden was a former assistant county attorney in Clearwater County when he was hired six months ago. He now prosecutes all of Hubbard County's DWI cases. County Attorney Don Dearstyne said if his budget runs short of funds for the salary bump, forfeiture funds could be used to augment Frieden's salary.

Dearstyne praised his new assistant as an asset to his office.

The board also heard a progress report on pending litigation that would force the costs of an indigent defendant's post-trial appeal onto counties. The case is making its way through the Minnesota Supreme Court. Commissioners unanimously scorned the lawsuit because it has the potential to cost counties thousands of dollars.

As an example, a Ponsford man with a lengthy record of DWI convictions is now appealing a jury's verdict of his latest conviction last summer. The county is in the process of filing briefs to oppose the man's motions.

n Welcomed seasonal resident Adam Long to the board table. Long is a Twin Cities high school student doing a project on government so he and father Brian sat through the meeting, Adam at the board table. Commissioners frequently stopped to explain what they were doing. The Longs have a cabin on Lower Bottle Lake. Adam is the grandson of Food Shelf director Dave Long.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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