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Blowdown damage too sporadic for loggers to clean up

Many trees stand at a 45 degree angle after the blowdown, and likely will die. 9Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Portions of the July blowdown in northern Hubbard County may never be cleaned up because of the scattered nature of the destruction.

That was the opinion of Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier after reporting a somewhat disappointing salvage timber sale this week of the damaged areas.

"The number of bidders was down significantly," Lohmeier told the county board Wednesday. "The market's fallen apart in the last couple of weeks. Prices are down considerably from a month ago."

The county held its first emergency sale of timber near the Becida region a month ago to clear out trees toppled by gale force winds.

Lohmeier said the longer the wood sits, the lower its value.

But complicating the latest timber sale is that there are no large parcels to harvest efficiently.

"The wind event didn't take large swaths," he said. "There are spots here and there."

The Sept. 17 auction brought in $128,620. Although pine wood continues to command a decent price, the region's popple trees are nearly worthless, commissioner Lyle Robinson noted.

The Norbord plant near Bemidji has shut down for a month, so the market for aspen is non-existent.

Lohmeier and board members speculated much of the wood cleaned up in Fern and Rockwood Townships from this latest timber sale would be sold as firewood.

In other business, the board:

n Agreed to raise the cost paid for county burials from $1,400 to $1,450 for professional services.

The county usually pays for a dozen such services annually.

"We're contacted by family members who are unable to pay for the cost of the funeral so they make application for the county burial policy," said Renee Weeks, financial assistance supervisor in an interview after the meeting.

These are essentially no-frills services, but nevertheless meaningful to the families.

"We're seeing a lot more cremations rather than the full burial," Weeks said. "I would say 65 percent of them have been cremations within the last year.

In addition to the professional services, Weeks said the county does also pay for the grave opening and closing, embalming, local transportation of the remains and plot on a traditional burial.

The county pays for a cloth covered coffin or urn and transportation to a crematorium. The nearest is Bemidji, but sometimes bodies are transported to St. Cloud or St. Paul, Weeks said.

Cremains can go back to the family if they wish to scatter the ashes or the county will pay for burial.

"It is sad," Weeks said. "These people have no other means to pay."

n Authorized spending $6,100 plus tax for aerial fall photography. Lohmeier said it's for "selected spots where we've had a lot of activity. The only company around, he said, is a firm out of Walker.

The board urged him to explore other options, but authorized the expenditure.

"I get nervous when we give a bunch of money to one outfit," commissioner Lyle Robinson said.

Delaying the flight to look for competitive bids would put the county too late to get ample color contrast in the photography, Lohmeier said.

n Declined to reimburse a Hubbard church for $240 in landfill costs when members cleared a decrepit garage from a parishioner's property last month. The board said it didn't want to set a precedent.

"Once you start that who gets to pick what you don't charge?" board chair Dick Devine said. "It makes it unmanageable. Where do you draw the line?"

n Discussed the unknown costs to the county if the Voter ID law passes.

Commissioner Cal Johannsen said he worries "if it's mandated and it's not gonna fix the problem" of alleged voter fraud.

Robinson said he believes the amendment will pass in November and the county should start planning for it.

n Viewed 2013 updated departmental budgets and agreed to meet to pare $306,000 from expenditures.

n Agreed to look at procedures for the mass transportation system pertaining to weapons. The county forbids employees from bringing weapons, especially firearms, to the workplace unless they are certified law officers. A policy applying to county vehicles is being looked into.

n Approved the 2013 Natural Resources Block Grant that provides supplemental funding for the enforcement and adminis- tration of shoreland management ordinances and septic systems.

New this year is a grant for counties to help low-income homeowners bring failing septic systems into compliance and repair systems that pose an imminent health threat. The board directed Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf to develop criteria for the distribution of an estimated $21,000 the county will receive under the grant in 2013.

But Buitenwerf also suggested criteria to determine what percent of a septic system the county can afford to subsidize since the funding won't go far.

n Agreed to let a Clover Township family re-purchase tax forfeited land that was acquired by the county after a series of miscommunications more than a decade ago.

n Learned income maintenance monthly intakes and caseloads both went up in August. Caseloads per workers continue to decline slowly, but financial workers are still overloaded, Social Services Director Daryl Bessler told the board.

nAuthorized the expenditure of $6,600 to equip the Emergency Operations Center with furniture and equipment.

nCommended the County Attorney's office upon learning Hubbard County was ranked fifth in the state for drunken driving convictions.

Sarah Smith

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

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