Koochiching County Commissioner Districts

Koochiching County commissioners Tuesday met in a lengthy session, when they heard presentations and took action on several items.

The board agreed to fund the Sentencing to Service program for two years, at a county cost of $152,702, a 7-percent increase from the past two-year contract. The contract runs from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023.

STS is an alternative sentencing program by the courts that puts carefully selected, nonviolent offenders to work on community work service projects.

Matt Gouin, county Environmental Services director, reminded the board the county covers 75 percent of the costs of the program, with the state paying the remainder of the costs.

STS crews are led by Keith Knaeble, who has served as supervisor for many years. Crews have assisted the county’s recycling program for years, as well as have helped with site cleanup at various locations throughout the county.

Rezoning

The board agreed to rezone and grant a 5-year conditional use permit to KGM Contractors on an 80-acre parcel, 1/4 mile south of Highway 53 and two miles east of Ray.

The action will allow KMG to operate a new rock quarry and crushing operation, with access off Highway 53. The gravel from the site will be used for local and state projects in and around the International Falls area.

The board received a recommendation based on the County Planning and Zoning Commission’s April 8 hearing, where several residents and property owners voiced concerns.

The closest house is 1/4 mile from the site, which is surrounded by forests.

The board Tuesday heard from some of those same property owners about the potential impact of blasting to wells.

A KGM official attending the board meeting agreed to test wells of three nearby homes, and again described mitigation and reclamation efforts that will be put in place during the operation.

The action and conditions appeared to satisfy area residents.

Other business

In other business, the board:

Scheduled a public hearing for the May 11 board meeting, on a request by Steve Lindberg, owner of Rainy Lake One Stop, Highway 11 and County Road 93. Lindberg wants to acquire a thin strip of property between the convenience store and the Highway 11 right of way, now owned by the county.

Approved employment separation of Deputy Sheriff John Kalstad and authorized filling the vacant position.

Approved promotion of Correction Officer/E911 Carrie Geiss to E911/jail administrator and authorize filling the vacant position.

Heard the county was found in compliance of the 2021 pay equity audit.

Approved a labor agreement with members represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 49 collective bargaining unit. The agreement is similar to other labor settlements, with a 2-percent cost of living allowance, and other changes including to severance, based on years of services.

KDA

Meeting as the Koochiching Development Authority Board Tuesday, the board heard a presentation by Nathan Zacharias, of Zacharias Government Relations, who has provided lobbying services supporting the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition since 2018.

The coalition asked the KDA Board for an additional $2,500 funding for continued advocacy for broadband funding from the state.

Jaci Nagle, county information systems director and Koochiching Technology Initiative chairperson, told the county the past advocacy by Zacharias helped ensure that grant programs continue to exist until all Minnesotans have access to quality, reliable broadband.

She told the board Koochiching has benefited from the past works of the coalition

“Multiple broadband projects to occur in our county were awarded grant funding through the Border to Border Broadband grant program; funding that the coalition worked hard to support through the legislative process that resulted in $40 million being approved for 2020 and 2021 projects,” she said in a brief to the board.

The coalition has successfully moved forward bills in the Minnesota House and Senate for $120 million over the next two years, she added. That number will likely change as negotiations between the House, Senate, and Governor’s office over the biennial budget commence in the next two months, making the need for these contracts supporting the coalition endeavors essential, she said.