Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Broadband Resolution Passed at County Board Meeting

Today was a very full and productive day at the Courthouse.  The County Board met from 8:30 AM until approximately 4:30 PM today (less a lunch break).  Following is a summary of the day.

County Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes,  Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for today's regularly scheduled Board Meeting which included an evaluation presentation on Superior National Golf Course (SNGC) from Sirius Golf Advisors.

Open Forum
Richard Olson and Shawn Perich requested the County work with Hovland property owners to resolve flooding issues caused by the undersized culvert where Otis Creek crosses the Arrowhead Trail.  Otis Creek has overtopped the Arrowhead culvert five times over the past six years causing damage to private property.  County Engineer Dave Betts is aware of the problem and will prepare a plan to resolve this issue for presentation at the 8/16/11 County Board meeting.

Highway Department
County Engineer David Betts asked the Board to assign (2) Commissioners to the Facility Study Committee to assess the work on the Highway Department Master Site Plan being led by Oertel Architects. Commissioners Martinson and Sobanja will join the Committee of Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad, Maintenance Department Head Brian Silence, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers and Highway Department Accountant Anne Zellner.

Moose Habitat Collaborative Support Letter
Land Commissioner Mary Black requested the Board write a letter of support for the MN Moose Habitat Collaborative application for Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council funds to restore moose habitat in NE Minnesota.  The Board voted unanimously to join the MN Deer Hunters Association, Nature Conservancy, USFS, MN DNR, 1854 Authority, Grand Portage and Fon du Lac Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lake and St. Louis Counties by providing a letter of support.

Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ)
As recommended by the Planning Commission, the Board unanimously approved a zone change from Lakeshore Residential to Resort Commercial/Residential on property adjacent to Gunflint Lake and owned by John Schloot, dba Cross River Properties.

The Board denied a request for a Conditional User Permit to allow placement of a single family residence on a property owned by Joseph Sanders within the General Commercial zone district.  This request was denied for non-compliance with other zoning requirements 4-1 with Commissioner Sobanja dissenting.

The Board unanimously approved a request from Arrowhead Electric Cooperative for an Interim Use Permit to allow the temporary storage of fiber optic cable on property within the Lutsen Town Center Single Family Residential District.

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative Request for 1% Funds
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative (AEC) came before the County Board to request $4 million of 1% Local Option Sales Tax funding for their Broadband Project.  AEC has been awarded a combination grant and loan of $16 million through the federal Rural Utility Service for purposes of installing broadband technology throughout Cook County by making high speed internet available to all customers served by Arrowhead Electric and the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission.  AEC is incurring at least $5.4 million in debt to undertake and complete the Broadband Project.  AEC needs an additional $4 million to ensure that the system is adequately robust, redundant, and long lasting.  The Board approved this request unanimously.

Capital Purchase Request
The Board authorized IS Director Danna MacKenzie to purchase (3) Dell computers as part of the IS Department's regularly planned rotation and maintenance plan as budgeted.

Community Center Project Update
Tom Wacholz of ORB Management informed the Board that sample collections (drilling) at the various Community Center site options will begin tomorrow, July 27.  The Board voted unanimously to add samples to be collected from the potential school site option.

ISD166 Superintendent Beth Schwarz updated the County Board on the School Board's two-part motion indicating the School District's willingness to consider a proposal that would attach the Community Center to the School District.  Advocates for attaching the Community Center to the School envision this to be at no-cost to ISD166 and should reduce annual operations and maintenance costs for the District.

The County Board discussed possible options to allow the City of Grand Marais to participate in the Cook County Community Center project.  Ultimately the Board passed a motion to suspend further Community Center design activities and expenses until the matter of the City's participation is resolved.  The contracts with ORB Management for Community Center Contract Management and Meyer Group for Community Center design will be suspended with the exception of the current site evaluation process.  The County will invite the City Council to a joint County/City work session on 8/23/11 to discuss the matter further.

Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers asked the Board to approve a Public Hearing for Miscellaneous Fees.  The Hearing will be scheduled for 10 AM on August 23.  Powers also asked the Board to approve an extension to the Tait Lake Firewise Grant, which was approved.

Evaluation of Superior National Golf Course (SNGC) in Lutsen 
Sirius Golf Advisors President John Waite and Golf Course Architect Jeff Brauer presented their draft Evaluation of SNGC to the County Board and several members of the Public, including members of the EDA.  The final report will be available in approximately 2 weeks; no significant changes are anticipated.  An Executive Summary of the ~175 page document was also provided.

Overall response to the study and the presentation was very positive and well-received.  The County Board, as well as others in attendance asked clarifying questions of Waite and Brauer.  The report noted the original SNGC mission to spur economic development in the area and to bring more tourists into the area.  So, at this point, the most important question to be asked is whether or not the original mission statement for Superior National Golf Course is still valid.  Answering this question is critical to how the County Board and the EDA should move forward.  Sirius Golf Advisors offered (3) different scenarios for consideration, each requiring a different amount of funding.  The EDA and SNGC staff will explore possible funding sources in addition to their anticipated request for 1% Local Option Sales Tax funds.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Minnesota Public Radio's Broadband Coverage

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has been tracking seven places around Minnesota --and calling them Ground Level's Broadband 7 -- as these  (7) communities continue efforts to provide broadband services to their populations.  Cook County is one of those (7).

Read more at:


For more specific information about the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative broadband project go to:


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Possible end to State Government shutdown

In a sincere effort to "stop the pain" caused by the MN State Government shutdown, Governor Dayton has made a move to drop his pursuit of tax hikes and accept a previously made Republican Party offer with some concessions. 

Read more at:  http://www.startribune.com/local/125567728.html

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

County Board Meeting

County Board Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes, Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for today's regular County Board Meeting.  Also present were Janet Simonen, Braidy Powers and Tim Scannell.

Public Comment
Hal Greenwood, Matt Hueltner, Gary Gamble, Evelyn Larson and Irene Thompson came before the County Board to present survey information from their "Stop the Madness" Campaign in opposition to the proposed Cook County Community Center.  Members of the County Board shared the group's concern about Operation and Maintenance Costs and re-stated their determination to build a facility that is financially sustainable without any increase to taxes.  Gamble said that their group wasn't always aware of the on-going decision making process; Hakes extended an invitation to attend any of the Steering Committee Meetings which are always open to the public.

A Public Hearing was held to consider adopting proposed amendments to the Cook County Fiber Optic Network Ordinance.  The purpose of the Broadband Commission is "to advise and educate on the development, adoption , and use of broadband and directly related technologies".   The County Board approved this amendment which becomes effective upon publication.

Maintenance Department
Maintenance Director Brian Silence presented a quote to purchase a new County car for $21,197.  The Board passed a motion 4-1 approving this purchase with Commissioner Hakes opposed.  Hakes said she couldn't support the purchase without a clear understanding of the current fleet, associated costs, and alternatives to purchasing (lease, employee-owned cars, scheduling).

Highway Department
At County Engineer David Betts' recommendation, the Board approved the easement agreement with the Forest Service for the Junco Creek project and approved entering into an agreement with Midwest Trenchless Technologies to clean and televise the CSAH 12 storm sewer .  Betts and Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad gave an overview of the on-going construction and maintenance projects noting that calcium chloride applications began 7/11/11 and should be complete this week.

Office of Planning and Zoning
Planning and Zoning Director Tim Nelson reminded the Board that the Poplar River Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR) which was initially adopted in June 2006 is up for renewal if it is to continue as an active environmental review document.  Nelson recommended the Board re-adopt the original AUAR document and mitigation plan for another five years as well as adopt by reference two additional studies that had been conducted in the Poplar River area and provide more recent information for review in conjunction with the mitigation plan.  After discussion, the Board approved the motion unanimously.

Nelson also reported the North Shore Management Board (NSMB) is considering whether or not to initiate another amendment process to the existing North Shore Management Plan.  The Board recommends no change to the Plan at this time.

Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP)
CCLEP is in need of a Staff person to increase their ability to carry out their mission.  George Wilkes, CCLEP Chair, requested the County Board provide $1000 in matching funds toward a 1/2 time Coordinator position to manage CCLEP activities.  CCLEP intends to apply to the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation for the balance of $19,000.  Wilkes' request was approved by the Board.

AT&T Tower Leases
Mark Hemstereet of Insight (representing AT&T), Sheriff Mark Falk, and Duane Ege provided an update of the (2) new towers being considered for construction at Gunflint Magnetic and Gunflint Mid-Trail.  The logistics of building these towers is complex, but the general gist of it is that AT&T would pay for the construction of these towers.  In return for building the towers, any rents to be paid by AT&T would be abated for 25 years.  The estimated cost to build each tower is $200,000.  The County will have full ownership of these towers and retain the right to all rental income from both the current towers and the new towers.

Schroeder Township Survey
Citizen petition votes have been tallied at 67% in favor of the corner restoration survey in Sections 7-8-9-17-19 T58N R5W.  A letter is forthcoming to all landowners in those sections and a Public Hearing has been scheduled for August 9 at 10 AM at the Cook County Courthouse.  For questions about this process or the survey, contact Cook County Surveyor Wayne Hensche at 387-1172 or County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers at 387-3646.

Budget Calendar and State Shutdown
Department Heads are working on their 2012 Budgets for submission to Braidy Powers by July 29. 

The negative impact of the State Shutdown grows as the Shutdown continues.  Department Heads and the County Board are working to continue the provision of County Services in the least disruptive manner within the budget constraints and unknowns.

One Percent Project
Commissioner Sobanja reported that construction of the Library Addition project is going well.

The County Board discussed a letter received from the Cook County Community Center Board of Trustees regarding the benefits of attaching the proposed Community Center to ISD166.  Beth Schwarz was present for this discussion and took the action to meet with the School Board to determine their interest and willingness to explore this option further.  The next Steering Committee Meeting is slated for July 27.

NE MN Area Transportation Partnership (NMATP)
Lutsen Township Supervisor, Diane Parker, applied for the position of Cook County Rep to the NMATP.   The Board approved this unanimously.


Saturday, July 2, 2011