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Kandiyohi County highway employees placed in emergency training program under new mandate

WILLMAR -- Don Ericson hopes it rains today. That way he'll feel a little less guilty about pulling nearly 50 Kandiyohi County highway employees off their road construction projects and putting them in a classroom.

Given the short deadline for meeting new homeland security emergency training mandates and the risk of losing federal grant dollars if the mandates aren't met, there wasn't much choice.

Ericson, the county's emergency management director, told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that nearly 300 Kandiyohi County employees will need to undergo about eight hours of emergency training as part of the national program to help local communities prepare for a potential disaster.

In light of the poor disaster response after Hurricane Katrina, Ericson said there is urgency for communities to implement local emergency plans. The county received the specifics of the program, called the National Incident Management System, in March. Ericson said county departments have been "scrambling ever since" to organize the training session and meet the mandates by Sept. 30.

"I know we'll meet the standards," said Ericson, who praised the different departments for their cooperation and willingness to change their work schedules to meet the training requirements.

He said departments are being asked to take their entire work force off the job for up to eight hours to receive the training. "County departments are under the gun to get this done," said Ericson.

In the case of the Public Works Department, the class today comes at its busiest time and when "the weather is perfect" for road work, said Ericson.

The timing is even bad for Ericson's department. This is tornado preparedness season, he said, but he's being diverted from some of those activities to focus on the homeland security training.

The consequences of losing federal grant money if the mandates aren't met are too big of a risk to take, he said.

Ericson said he's working with current emergency educators at Ridgewater College so that they can receive the new training and then begin teaching classes to county employees.

There are 10 county departments that will need the training. Besides the obvious agencies such as law enforcement and emergency crews that are required to be trained, public works, public health and government administration employees will also attend the classes.

County Commissioner Richard Larson volunteered the entire County Board to be trained to prepare them for making decisions on emergency issues.

While it's not required, Ericson said elected officials are "encouraged" to participate.

It's not only county employees who must meet the new standards. Ericson said all governmental jurisdictions, including every town in Kandiyohi County, must comply. He said even employees, like the city clerk of a small town who may have "a desk job," will be recruited in an emergency and therefore will be required to be trained.

There is some grant money available to offset the cost of implementing the program, but Ericson said for the most part the mandates are unfunded. He said the federal government "will be upping the standards" with new emergency requirements next year.

In other action Tuesday, the County Board:

- Unanimously agreed that a preliminary environmental review showed that two proposed gravel pits in Lake Andrew Township would have no negative environmental impact and that a more in-depth review was not necessary. Vreeman Construction is proposing to open a 20-acre pit south of the county sanitary landfill on U.S. Highway 71 and a 35-acre pit on County Road 29.

- Approved a conditional use permit for Andrew and Jennifer Krupa for operation of a dog kennel in Roseville Township for a boarding, breeding and training facility for 24 dogs. Marie Lingl, owner of Fancy Coats pet grooming and boarding facility, questioned why she was required to have her facility 1,000 feet away from another residence but the Krupas are allowed to have theirs about 300 feet away from a neighbor.

- Heard a report from the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust that indicates Kandiyohi County's workers' compensation claims are lower than the average rates of total counties who are members. Kandiyohi County's property and casualty claims also decreased from 2004 to 2005 by nearly $40,000.

- Approved a grant agreement with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for a $96,978 grant. The largest part of the grant -- $47,301 -- is dedicated for the feedlot program.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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