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County says it will work with township to upgrade road for local dairy

WILLMAR -- A $239,250 state matching grant will be used to upgrade a two-mile section of a gravel road in St. John's Township that will service a large dairy operation planned there.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to work with the township to serve as the conduit for the economic development grant and to build the road, on the condition that the township retains ownership of it.

There will be no expense to the county, said Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

Kim Larson, representing Meadow Star Dairy, said they need a one-mile section of West First Avenue to be upgraded to a 10-ton design to handle heavy vehicles during the construction phase of the facility, as well as feed and milk trucks when the 9,590-head dairy is in operation.

Larson said the township opted to extend the project an additional mile at a seven-ton rating.

Danielson said the county's involvement is a "reasonable thing to do to expedite the grant funds" because it will assist with economic development for the county and gives the township a better road.

Wording in the grant, however, could make ownership a bit sticky. If the county accepts the state money to build the township road, it will be required to own it.

The county's intention is that it would temporarily own the road while it is being reconstructed and then be transferred back to the township for permanent ownership.

County Attorney Boyd Beccue said there have been verbal assurances from the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Finance Department that the county would be able to transfer the road back to the township, but he wants that in writing.

"And it sounds like that will be forthcoming," said Beccue.

In a later interview, Danielson said it's common for counties to handle grants to help townships build roads and bridges without any ownership issues. This state economic development grant, however, requires the county to own the road.

"It's pretty clumsy," he said. "It's just the regulations within this particular grant program."

On Tuesday, Commissioner Dean Shuck said it would not be all bad if the county ended up owning the road because it would provide a good link to County Roads 7 and 1.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the county's constrained budget would make it difficult to take over maintaining another two miles of road.

Danielson said the road is "strictly a local access road to get to a business" and that the county has typically not taken over those kinds of roads in the past.

Commissioner Richard Larson said he does not oppose the project but is reluctant to get involved at this time. "It's putting the cart before the horse."

He said it does not make sense to build a road to a large dairy operation that does not yet exist. "We'd be the laughing stock of the country" to build a road to nowhere and it's "not even used."

Commissioner Richard Falk said construction of the road should be contingent upon construction of the dairy.

But Shuck said the dairy cannot be built until the road is built because the current minimum maintenance road is not able to handle the weight and wear and tear of the heavy construction equipment.

Kim Larson said the economic development grant could not be used for the road without the dairy project, which is predicted to create 30 to 40 jobs. He said underground utility work is already completed at the site, located west of Willmar, in preparation for the project to proceed.

The commissioners voted unanimously to proceed with the project, but there will be additional agreements to be signed between the state, county and township before the project can proceed.

Danielson said the $478,500 project involves a 50 percent match from the township, which will include an assessment to Meadow Star Dairy.

Construction is expected to be done in October, after crops on adjacent fields are harvested.


Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750