Additional emergency funds will be available to local small businesses and non-profit organizations after action taken by the Koochiching County Board this week.

Commissioners Sept. 8 agreed to transfer $150,000 of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to the Koochiching Economic Development Authority for the small business and nonprofit grant relief fund programs. KEDA will act as fiscal agent for the grant program and return any unused funds to the county by Dec. 1.

So far, two rounds of funding have been granted to 30 businesses and two non-profit organizations. Koochiching County received $1.67 million in CARES Act funding, and money distributed must go directly to the emergency need for economic support to those suffering from business interruptions due to COVID-19.

Jenny Herman, Koochiching County administration director, said the allocation of CARES act funds are driven by needs of community, and may slightly change over time.

In addition, the board also Sept. 8 approved a resolution to create the Koochiching County Small Logger Timber Permit Holder Grant Program.

The local CARES Act committee requested approval of the grant program's guidelines and procedures. The adopted resolution says the expense will be incurred to provide economic support to Koochiching County loggers.

The action stems from the June 9 announcement that Verso Corporation was indefinitely idling its paper mill in Duluth, Minn., citing “unprecedented market decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Information distributed to the board said Verso-Duluth was a major consumer of spruce and balsam pulpwood in the state. Given the species mix and limited market opportunities, help is needed to provide relief for permit holders with markets that no longer exists or are severely diminished.

Area loggers have purchased Koochiching County administered timber and made down payments to the county based on the expectation that markets existed for species like spruce and balsam. As a result of Verso’s closure, the market no longer exists and historically consumed a significant volume of Koochiching County administered spruce and balsam pulpwood.

Grant qualifications include:

  1. Logging businesses must have 50 or fewer full-time employees to be eligible for this grant program. For the purpose of this program, a full time equivalent will be equal to at least 32 hours per week.
  2. Must be a “non-active” Koochiching County administered timber permit purchased prior to July 1, 2020.
  3. Must contain a-minimum 20-percent component of spruce and/or balsam based on the total volume estimate o f the sale appraisal.
  4. The additional 10-percent sold penalty and loss of future bidding eligibility will be waived on sales meeting the criteria and turned back on or before Nov. 16, 2020.
  5. Koochiching County administered timber permits meeting the above-mentioned criteria that are not turned back, will be eligible for a two-year free extension, including those permits already in extension.
  6. Permit holders wanting relief on qualifying permits must indicate their intentions in writing on or before Nov. 16, 2020.
  7. Permit holders must not have any overruns or delinquent payments due on other active Koochiching County administered timber permits.

Timber permit holder grant program procedures include:

  1. Permit holders who turn back eligible sales on or before Nov. 16, will be eligible to receive an economic support grant up to $20,000 from CARES Act funds.
  2. Complete Small Logger Timber Permit Holder Grant Program application.
  3. Execute grant agreement.

Broadband vision

Koochiching County commissioners also last week took action to support a Minnesota Broadband Vision, which aims to bring broadband access to all Minnesotans.

By adopting the vision, commissioners join other Minnesota counties and cities in encouraging the Minnesota Legislature and governor to “provide sufficient leadership, resources and legal framework to ensure that the State of Minnesota achieves this vision.”

Paul Nevanen, representing the Koochiching Technology Initiative, said part of the vision helps determine areas of Minnesota that are under served in broadband access and working with providers and state resources to improve connectivity.

Broadband internet in rural Minnesota has been identified as an essential utility by many as it is increasingly relied upon to provided access to telehealth, distance learning, e-commerce, precision agriculture and many other applications, the resolution of the vision said. It has been compared to electricity with regard to improving the quality of life and eliminates traditional barriers of time and distance.

Jim Yount, KTI, said the vision has also been adopted by 19 Minnesota counties and 16 cities.

“It's a pretty straight forward vision,” he said.

COVID-19 update

Koochiching County Public Health Director Kathy LaFrance reported there is a 4-percent positive test rate of the 2,469 COVID-19 tests administered in the county.

Statewide, the positive testing rate is 5.5 percent.

“We're doing good with testing in the county,” LaFrance said.

As of last Thursday, 83 of the 93 cumulative positive cases in Koochiching County no longer need to be in isolation.

In addition, the average number of cases per day is the lowest it's been for two months in Minnesota. LaFrance said there is some concern among health officials, however, that the number could increase following the Labor Day weekend.

LaFrance also encouraged people to get their flu shots, especially this year, to lower risks of a flu outbreak during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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