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County considers steps towards a new Highway Department facility

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners recognize the need to expand the Stevens County Highway Department facilities, but believe they can move forward without doing a feasibility study on the project.

On Tuesday, County Engineer Brian Giese presented the board with a proposal from engineering firm Widseth Smith Nolting for $13,800 feasibility study to determine the best options for a new facility and goals for construction. 

After some discussion, the board agreed that step was not necessary and they would rather use the funds to pay an architect to develop plans.

Instead, the board directed Giese to work on a needs and wants list for a new facility and planned to hold a work session at a future date to discuss how to move forward.

“I’d be against spending the $13,000 until we decide want we want to do – it seems like a waste of money if no one has any intentions to move forward with anything in the future,” said Commissioner Donny Wohlers. 

“In my experience you save money sometimes by going with a professional so it’s more in line and everything works out,” noted Commissioner Bob Kopitzke.

Giese said he has an idea of what he would like to do with the space – build a new shop and office and convert the old shop to equipment storage – but that a feasibility study could help make sure the few facility isn’t too large or too small for future needs.

There are several issues with the current building including electrical issues, broken equipment, poor air quality and lack of storage.

“I think we need to do something in the next year or couple of years,” Giese said.

Giese also told the board having a feasibility study, developed by experts, could help the board convince residents that the facilities project is necessary.

“I have no trouble selling this to the public without a feasibility study – we know the problems,” said Commissioner Phil Gausman. “If we can’t defend our actions ourselves and we have to rely on somebody spoon-feeding us this information, we already know it.”

County opens project on County Ditch 30 for bids

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved a revision to a $1.9 million improvement project in the southwest section of the county. The board also opened the project up for bids.

When the board approved the project in December, they also directed Houston Engineering to look at revision to route part of the ditch around a homestead rather than straight through it. On Tuesday, they approved an alternative to the project that will help protect trees around the property.

County Ditch 30 is a subsurface drain tile system that includes about 2,000 acres in Scott, Darnen, Horton and Synnes Townships.

Bids on the project, including alternatives for using polyethylene or concrete pipe, are due on Wednesday, March 26.

Other business

  • Emergency Management Director Dona Greiner told the board that county municipalities received $309,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of a declared disaster in 2013. Of that total, $150,000 went to the University of Minnesota, Morris and $76,000 went to the city of Morris.
  • The board approved an agreement with Pictometry International to update the county’s pictometry map. Under the agreement, the county will pay $48,000 over three years for the first flight. If the county approves a second flight in three years, it will cost another $61,000. IT Director Scott Busche told the board the expense will be paid for out of the county recorder’s shared technology fund.
  • The board approved a federal fund exchange agreement with Mahnomen County. Under the agreement, Stevens County will transfer $300,000 in federal road funding to Mahnomen County in exchange for $300,000 in state funding. County Engineer Brian Giese told the board that this exchange will create more efficiency in the federal project process and reduces the requirements for Stevens County’s project because of the change in funding sources.
  • The board accepted the retirement of Barb Gades, a child support officer with Stevens County Human Services, effective April 11. The board also authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to begin the search for a replacement.
  • The board authorized Jason Dingman to move forward with the purchase of a new squad car, part of the department’s regular squad car rotation.
  • The board approved advertisements for bids on three projects: a 5.7 mile overlay project on CSAH 4; a 1.6 mile overlay project on CSAH 22; and 16.4 miles of seal coating across the county. Bids for all three projects are due on Wednesday, March 26.
  • The board scheduled a hearing to discuss abandoning County Ditch 12 for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 18. The county received a petition signed by all of the landowners on the system to abandon the ditch.