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County board approves four large timber sales for 2013

Under a more aggressive timber harvesting policy, Hubbard County will hold the first of four auctions Jan. 7, 2013.

The county has traditionally held only three timber auctions per year for the past couple decades.

Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier told the board this is a concerted effort to clear out the county's geriatric stands of aspen trees, many 80+ years old.

The county plants new groves of trees every spring. Next month 1,118.2 aces will be auctioned off.

"The market right now is extremely soft," Lohmeier told the board. "Mills have changed their pricing policy."

He said the lumber mills no longer reimburse loggers for long-distance travel.

Commissioners worried the county may soon have timber sales that no one will bid on.

"Should we set the base prices lower?" commissioner Cal Johannsen asked.

Price and unsold timber hasn't been the case so far, Lohmeier said.

Commissioner Lyle Robinson questioned, "whether we're putting too much on the market."

Lohmeier said local reaction time to market prices lags, so it's always somewhat of an unknown how to price aspen and pine.

"We're certainly going in the right direction, getting rid of the old aspen," Robinson said.

But then he brought up a topic that commissioners have had a bundle of phone calls on - the road to nowhere.

Hunters came up to Hart Lake this fall to find a 2-mile road had been cut west of the lake, clearing much of the cover. They weren't happy and let board members know.

"It goes 1.5 to 2 miles," Lohmeier acknowledged. "We have a large amount of timber back there that's gonna need to be harvested," he added.

"Before we build roads like that the board needs to know," Johannsen said. "We get blindsided" when the complaints come in about a project commissioners weren't aware of.

"It forever changes the landscape," Robinson complained. "It had to have cost us forty-five, fifty thousand bucks."

"Forty-five thousand," Lohmeier said.

Johannsen conceded that forest policy allows the land department "to build necessary roads," but questioned the project.

"This thing is 100 feet wide," Robinson noted. "The road itself is certainly more than a township road. All the other roads seem like trails. This is like a superhighway. It's got ditches and everything."

Robinson said he'd heard from townships wondering about the road.

Lohmeier said his department didn't put gravel on it because it would have cost too much.

Robinson offered Lohmeier what he called "free advice" before the commissioner left office.

"If you come before the board twice a month, you need to tell us" about such projects, he said.

"It gets in the paper and people know about it."

He said when the public is kept in the dark about projects such as this, "we're looking stupid. It's a reflection on all of us."

In other business, the board:

n Also directed some criticism to the Highway Department about complaints they'd heard about spreading calcium chloride on roads in the northern part of the county.

"We had problems this fall," Johannsen said. A layer of wet snowfall on top of the salt made some roads soupy and commissioners heard from their constituents, he said.

But county engineer Dave Olsonawski said not salting roads would result in road maintenance costs that would be triple what the county spends now.

But Olsonawski said the county has cut back on the strength of the application to see if less salt worked as well.

"It is hard on the vehicles, no doubt about it," Johannsen said.

n Restored $4,000 cut from the Victims Services budget, restoring the entire $14,000 the county spends to subsidize the office. A proposal to merge the one-person department into the County Attorney's office was deemed unfeasible last month.

The board also gave Veterans Services $11,700 for transportation funds that state is not reimbursing, to get vets to medical appointments.

In doing so, the board approved a final certified levy of $11,850,000.

n Made a pledge to fund the war in Aquatic Invasive Species without making it a formal budget item. Commissioners are reluctant to permanently fund it for fear the state will back away from its responsibility to contain the spread of AIS in state lakes.

Commissioners reasoned there would be some wiggle room in the budget to fund a program of watercraft inspectors similar to last year, when a dozen inspectors were hired to police crucial public access launches.

n Heard a yearend report from the Surveying Department on how the county's "re-monumentation" efforts were going. The county has been setting permanent pins across the county per GPS coordinates, to enable the county and private surveyors to set boundary lines. Of the 3,677 total governmental corners, 2,359 have been certified or are in the process of being certified, said survey tech Ryan Miller.

However, in doing so, the county has created boundary disputes because most of the benchmarks were set a century ago using trees.

And the increased logging of old timber is necessitating surveys of relatively uncharted territory, Miller noted.

"Boundary surveys are getting to be the biggest thing," surveyor Mike Branham said. The county does not survey any private lands, but does have to clear up boundary issues when private lands abut county-owned property.

n Approved a quote from Roger's Two Way Radio in Bemidji to convert Highway Department radios to narrowband. A nationwide conversion must be made by next month. The cost will be $18,496.05. The department has budgeted for the conversion,

n Handed out service awards to a dozen employees, thanking them for employment ranging from 5 to 35 years.

Sarah Smith

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

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