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Commissioners approve new ordinance

MORRIS – On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted  4 – 1 in favor of an amended Subsurface Sewage Treatment System ordinance (SSTS) for the county that is no more restrictive than the county’s existing ordinance.

Commissioner Bob Kopitzke cast the dissenting vote.

The ordinance review came as a result of a new set of SSTS rules adopted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2011. Under those rules, counties can adopt alternative local standards based on a 2006 standard for systems under 2,500 gallons per day, which includes most residential systems, explained Environmental Services Director Bill Kleindl.

After a first reading of the ordinance on April 1, the board reviewed the ordinance at a work session on April 9 and, as a result, removed two provisions that would have made the ordinance more restrictive than the requirements the county has in place now.

One provision that was removed would require individuals to get an MPCA license when building a non-pressurized system (a mound system, for example) for personal use. Under the revised ordinance, approved Tuesday, individuals can install their own system of any type, provided it is designed by a licensed designer.

The second requirement would have required that septic systems be compliant when property is transferred or sold. This requirement was included in the first draft of the ordinance at a request from local realtors, Kleindl said.

However, the board elected not to include that provision. Under the approved ordinance, sellers just need to disclose what type of system they have installed. It is up to the buyer to decide what to do with the system after purchase.

The new ordinance will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Morris Sun Tribune.

Who rules the waters?

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners board pledged money and support to a law firm working on comments that express concerns about how federal agencies define waters they have jurisdiction over.

Attorneys Kurt Deter and John Kolb of Rinke Noonan outlined their concerns about a new proposed rule from the Environmental Projection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers in a letter shared with the board: On March 25, 2014, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a proposed rule to define the scope of streams and wetlands the agencies claim jurisdiction for protection under the Clean Water Act.

“The Clean Water Act, for example, requires a permit for the discharge of dredged or fill materials into ‘navigable water,’ which are defined by the Act as ‘waters of the United States,’” the letter explained.

However, Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left many questions about how to define “navigable water.”

County Engineer Brian Giese said that his understanding of the proposed rule indicated that the EPA and Army Corps were trying to extend their authority to any waters that drain into navigable waters.

“I think one of the concerns is agricultural drainage – if we’re going to drain farmland and it works it’s way through a series of drainage systems and eventually touches a previously defined water of the state, does that mean the Corps of Engineers has to be regulating each of those projects?” Giese said.

With a $500 contribution from each of the drainage authorities the firm represents, Rinke Noonan will draft a set of comments to submit to the EPA and Army Corps on the proposal.

“In my opinion this is not a good thing,” said Commissioner Phil Gausman.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of counties on board with this because it’s going to affect not only the county but also landowners,” said Commissioner Ron Staples.

Other business

  • The board scheduled two public hearings on petitions for partial abandonment of sections of County Ditch 18 and County Ditch 22. The CD 18 hearing will be Tuesday, June 17 at 9:30 followed by the CD 22 hearing at 10.

  • The board authorized County Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese to lease a tax forfeited property in Chokio to a resident interested in planting a garden. The property is located at 206 N. Main Street and will be leased through October for $5. Under the agreement, the resident will be responsible for mowing grass on the property. The property will likely sell at auction this fall, Wiese said.

  • The board approved $3,000 to continue funding a Veterans Justice Corps position shared between Stevens and Pope Counties. The AmeriCorps position provides support for veterans involved with the criminal justice system.

  • The board approved land rental agreements with Nick Kill and Peter Brandt for tillable land within two of the county’s gravel pits. Kill and Brandt farm land adjacent to the rented land.

  • The board approved Ace Sperr to a five-year term on the Stevens County Planning Commission. Sperr is taking over the seat previously held by Ralph Sperr. The board also appointed Knute Christiansen to another five-year term on the commission.

  • The board accepted the resignation of IT Director Scott Bushe. Busche’s last day will be May 30. The county personnel committee will be meeting to draft a plan for how to fill the position. the board has planned a work session for Tuesday, May 13 at 8 a.m. to discuss the issue, as well as look at transition/succession planning and start developing the 2015 budget.