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Hubbard County's timber auction and harvest policy comes under scrutiny

Robin Walsh appeared before the Hubbard County board Wednesday to question timber harvesting policies that are costing loggers money. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Mark Lohmeier is Hubbard County's Land Commissioner who oversees county timber auctions. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

A Park Rapids logging company asked that Hubbard County change the way it's running timber sales because strict adherence to policies are hurting the company's bottom line.

"I'm out $3,000" on a recent timber sale, said Robin Walsh of Walsh Forest Products.

Under a longstanding policy, loggers must complete one sale before they can harvest another. That's to prevent any commingling of the wood.

"We're trying to make sure the public resources are protected," Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier told the county board Wednesday.

In the last timber sale, Walsh said his company bid two separate tracts that were side-by-side. But each was priced differently. Walsh said his company was prevented from harvesting both tracts simultaneously because of the policy, which hasn't been enforced in the past.

"It costs our company a lot of money to move equipment in and out," Walsh told the board. Walsh said his company specializes in pine cuttings.

"I offered to blend the prices on it," Walsh said.

Lohmeier said that could have resulted in over- or under-pricing the cords of wood.

"We can't change the contract after signing it even if both parties agree," Lohmeier said. "It's a public bidding process."

The Natural Resources Department conducts three "intermediate" timber auctions each year, which are limited to small loggers with fewer than 20 employees.

Although Walsh is one of the larger companies that bid at the auction, Robin Walsh said it still remains within the employee limit, with 17 employees. A separate trucking company employs more people, he added.

Lohmeier said timber sales are of varying size to cater to the one-man operations or companies like Walsh.

But Walsh said enforcement of the policy allowing only one bid to be worked on at a time was not explained at the June 14 auction.

Walsh, whose family company has been in business since 1962, said in the past his loggers have been allowed to work on as many as four sales at a time when the tracts were adjacent to one another.

"We appreciate you telling us about it," commissioner Lyle Robinson said.

"We need to review it," commissioner Dick Devine said of the timber sale policy. "We want to work with our timber people."

Lohmeier said his department would look at the policy for future sales, to see if adjoining tracts could be combined into a single sale, or not offer adjoining sales at all.

In other business, the board:

n Heard once again from a Lake Belle Taine resort that is slowly flooding as the lake level rises.

Lynn Swaggert of Campers' Paradise, said the rising lake level threatens tourism in the area if local resorts can't offer beachfront to their customers.

As the lake rises, beaches are being swallowed up. Some resorts don't have a beach anymore, she said.

"Can you help us?" she asked the county board.

"I think that question has been asked and answered," board chair Greg Larson said. 'If there's no new information..."

Numerous studies were completed a decade ago and numerous solutions were proposed to alleviate the flooding on the lake that has no outlet.

Many governmental units backed away from the controversy over threats of lawsuits.

But Robinson said the board could work with the DNR to see if the causeway going out to the resort on Goat Island can be raised.

Swaggert said in the past, DNR officials have said the resort can't raise the road, which Swaggert said has been there since a least 1959 when her in-laws bought the property.

Robinson said the board would contact the DNR to "come out and look at it."

Swaggert, who appeared at the last board meeting, said she wants to keep the momentum going to get a permanent solution to the lake's rising because studies showed that's exactly what will happen, she said.

"Belle Taine will continue to go through this stepping stone process," she said.

n Heard that Hubbard County Social Services will have some difficulties beginning its budget process in the wake of the state shutdown.

Director Daryl Bessler said the Health and Human Services budget is just being digested; so many uncertainties over funding of services lurk over the horizon.

Robinson said budgets are just preliminary in the beginning, so he urged Bessler's staff to fill in as many blanks as they are certain of initially.

The department did report good news. For the first time in months, requests for income maintenance declined, along with intakes, which are initial requests for services.

n Announced that Night to Unite will be Aug. 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Law Enforcement parking lot.

The Sheriff's Department was allowed to spend more than $3,500 for new bulletproof vests, almost $60,000 to retain a consultant to help with the ARMER radio conversion and almost $25,000 to equip three recently purchased vehicles.

That expenditure took commissioner Kathy Grell by surprise, because it equaled the price of one of the vehicles. She asked that in the future, requests for new squad vehicles contain the cost of the equipment as well.

And the department was authorized to spend $6,600 on a mass notification system that would alert residents to weather issues and other emergencies.

n Discussed whether the county should continue to have a motor pool.

Public Works Superintendent Dave Olsonawski, whose department oversees the motor pool, had requested replacing a vehicle at this time, which the board discouraged.

Olsonawski said the two cars, Ford Fusions, get regular use while the vans get sporadic use.

But he said many county employees are using their own vehicles because they get reimbursed at the federal rate of 55 cents per mile. If they use a motor pool car, their department gets billed 44 cents per mile.

Robinson suggested lowering the mileage reimbursement rate to remove the incentive for employees to use their own vehicles.

Approved the county's share of a road project in the northern end of the county that is being shared with Beltrami County to surface County 3 on the boundary line between the two counties. Hubbard County's share will be $478,541.10.

Sarah Smith

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

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