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County will hire outside experts for environmental review issues

WILLMAR -- A course of action for dealing with complicated proposals that need environmental review was established Tuesday by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

The board agreed that when such cases arise, the county will hire an outside expert who can help the county's Environmental Services and Planning and Zoning departments analyze potential environmental impacts.

The bold step was taken as a result of firm direction from the Minnesota Supreme Court in a lawsuit involving the county's environmental review of two gravel pits.

The court told the county to conduct further review of potential "cumulative" environmental impacts of the gravel pits by considering similar anticipated and surrounding projects. The court said the county didn't look closely enough at that area and sent the issue back to the commissioners for further review.

County Attorney Boyd Beccue gave the commissioners a six-part recommendation for establishing a process to conduct another review of the two gravel pits, including hiring an expert to help analyze the information with the cost of the consultant going back to the developer -- in this case Duininck Bros. Construction.

The process will also involve reopening the comment period and conducting another public hearing on the gravel pits.

Beccue said the focus of that new review for the two gravel pits will be narrow and limited to the potential environmental impacts.

He said involving the consultant "at the front end" of the process will help the county conduct a proper review.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen questioned if a consultant would also be required for environmental reviews of feedlots or housing developments.

Commissioner Richard Falk said in the future "only the wealthy" will be able to afford to develop projects if developers are "challenged by an ad hoc committee." The lawsuit over the review of the two gravel pits was initiated by a citizens' group.

Beccue said using the consultant would not be required for every case that requires environmental review but could be utilized for complicated cases that would be too difficult for existing county staff to analyze.

Jeff Bredberg, environmental services director, will come back with a recommendation for hiring a consultant in the near future.

Meanwhile, the commissioners rejected a request by another group of residents that an environmental assessment worksheet be conducted for a housing development, called Pleasant Cove, on Long Lake near Spicer.

A group of residents had submitted a petition requesting the discretionary review. The commissioners rejected the request, finding no need for additional environmental review.

In other action the commissioners:

- Heard a presentation on plans by the city of Willmar to construct a new $80 million wastewater treatment facility. The city will eventually be requesting approval to discharge treated wastewater into Kandiyohi County Ditch 10, which flows to Hawk Creek. Currently, the water is discharged to County Ditch 46.

- Approved a wetland replacement plan for the 115-acre Waterview Business Park, located in the southeast part of Willmar. Under the plan, nearly 40 acres of wetland will have to be replaced. The park is being developed by Duininck Bros. Construction. As one of the conditions, Duininck Bros. must provide a performance bond of $850,726. The city of Willmar expressed concerns about flood storage, flood elevations, water quality and network transportation.

- Rejected the only bid the county received for installing a new hot water heating system in several buildings the county now owns on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus. The bid was about 30 percent higher than expected. Chad Hansen, from Martin Mechanical Designs, said the high bid price was probably because of the short timeline for having the project done, which is needed to meet the state's deadline of shutting down the existing power plant by Sept. 15. Hansen said an extension on the timeline is being sought.

- Approved a revised grant agreement with the state for $900,000 to build a new maintenance facility near the jail as part of the transition of ownership of property on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

- Approved a new contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections for housing 45 inmates at the county jail. The price per inmate increased $1.10, for a new daily rate of $56.10.

- Opened bids for reconstruction for the west end of County Road 10 near Spicer. The apparent low bidder was Duininck Bros. Construction at $2,204,146. Central Specialties Inc. of Alexandria was the other bidder at $2,835,131. Action will be taken on June 20.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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