Friday, February 3, 2012

Community Center, Courthouse Security, Special Meeting on Opening the Closed Landfill

The last two days have been filled with meetings.  Here's the rundown on (3) of the most interesting:

Community Center Steering Committee Meeting--Thursday Morning
At the direction of the County Board, the Community Center Steering Committee met February 2 from 8 am to Noon.  The Steering Committee has been tasked with making a recommendation to the County Board for a new Community Center and Recreation Area to be designed and built at a cost not to exceed $9M.  This amount is reduced from just under $11M previously allocated.  The County Board also directed the Steering Committee to recommend a location for outdoor ice to be built in time for the 2012-2013 winter skating season, and to consider various options for a warming facility.

After significant discussion including the budget, location of the facility, wetland mitigation, facility management and possible partnership with ISD166, two motions were made and passed:  1)  The Steering Committee will pursue working with the YMCA to explore the possibility of having the YMCA manage a new facility, and 2) The Steering Committee will pursue attaching the proposed Community Center to the School. A meeting with the School Board will be requested to explore the merits of this partnership and the County Board will be kept abreast of this effort.

Committee member Paul Sporn volunteered and was elected as the new Steering Committee Chair.  Diane Booth was re-elected as Secretary.  Other members include Jeanne Anderson, Maggie Barnard, Diane Booth, Bob Fenwick, Sue Hakes, Andra Lilienthal, Paul Nelson, Sue Prom, Karen Kritta Saethre, Fritz Sobanja, Paul Sporn, and alternates Kris Hedstrom, Jim Johnson and George Wilkes.  There are still a couple of openings on the Committee; if you are interested in participating, call Diane Booth at 387-3015.

The next meeting of the Steering Committee is TENTATIVELY scheduled for either February 29 (Wed) or March 2 (Fri) from 8 AM to NOON.  The Public is welcome to attend these meetings.

Cook County Security Committee--Friday Morning
The first meeting of the newly formed Cook County Security Committee was held Friday, February 3 from 10 AM to approximately 12:30 PM.  Sheriff Mark Falk was nominated as the Chair of this Committee to be assisted by Commissioner Sue Hakes.  Committee members include:  Sheriff Mark Falk, Judge Michael Cuzzo, County Board Chair Janice Hall, County Attorney Tim Scannell, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, Acting Court Administrator Diane Herrick-Schmidt, Probation Officer Steve Borud, Maintenance Director Brian Silence, Public Health & Human Services Director Sue Futterer, Personnel Director Janet Simonen, GIS Analyst Kyle Oberg, and County Commissioner Sue Hakes.

The basic role of this Committee is to review Cook County policies, procedures and facilities and recommend any changes necessary to reasonably ensure the safety of all who enter the Cook County Courthouse.

After a review of actions taken since the December 15, 2011 Courthouse Shooting, the Committee identified and discussed a list of issues and established some priorities.  "Making the Courthouse Safe" was of top priority and a sub-committee was established to look at possible physical changes that could/should be made to the County Attorney's Office, Courtroom, Court Administration, Probation, other departments, entrances/exits.  It was also decided that the existing Safety Committee would examine the Lockdown Policy and Training (employee safety training, lockdown drills, other training as identified).

The importance of two-way communication with County employees was also discussed at length.  A second All Employee Meeting is being scheduled to keep employees informed of actions being taken, as well as to allow employees to ask questions, share ideas, and voice concerns.  Department Heads are soliciting input from employees about needs and concerns which will be forwarded to the Committee for consideration and incorporation.

Four members of this committee (Falk, Hicken, Borud, Hakes) will be attending the MN Sheriff's Association Courthouse Safety Training on November 22-23 in Bemidji.

Special Meeting of the County Board of Commissioners--Friday Afternoon
A Special Meeting of the County Board of Commissioners was called to consider a request to support the release of the existing Gunflint Landfill  from the Closed Landfill Program.  Local businessmen Ray Pederson and Rick Austin (R&R Disposal) requested  the County Board support their efforts to have the MPCA re-open the former demolition landfill site approximately 9 miles off the Gunflint Trail on Forest Road 304.  Hal Greenwood was also present in support of this request; Mr. Greenwood explained that he has been helping to fast-track this request with Governor Dayton, Senator Tom Bakk and Representative David Dill.

Several years ago, the County Board made a conscious and expensive decision to enter its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and Demolition Landfills into the MPCA Closed Landfill Program.  This decision was made to mitigate the risks to public health and the environment that can be caused at/near landfills from groundwater contamination, landfill gas migration, and/or chemical leaching.  The County paid in excess of $600,000 for the MPCA to be responsible for the long-term care of this facility and remove the County from any liability resulting from this site.

Removing the Demolition Landfill from the Closed Landfill Program (the request does not include the MSW) puts the County at risk in (2) significant ways:

a)  First and foremost is the risk to public health and the environment that may be caused by re-opening this site; there is a reason it was closed in the first place.

b)  The second is the financial liability to the County, and ultimately the County taxpayers.  By re-opening the old demolition landfill, any party that has ever used it becomes liable for damages; the State would bear no liability or responsibility.  Both County Attorney Tim Scannell and Director of Planning & Zoning Tim Nelson outlined clearly the liability risks to the County.  The MPCA has also explained that in spite of some legislative limits to the County's liability, it could still reach $3 million.

We do need a safe, affordable demolition landfill in Cook County.  Unfortunately, the health and liability risks at the old demolition site are too great to fulfill this need.

Ultimately the County Board voted 3-1 (Hakes opposed) in support of writing a letter to Senator Bakk and Representative Dill asking them to work with R&R Disposal and Cook County in exploring the removal of the old Demolition Landfill from the Closed Landfill Program.