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Permits may be needed for ditches in the future

LAKE SHORE – Proposed federal regulations could require counties and other local governments to obtain Environmental Protection Agency or Army Corps of Engineers permits for road or farm field ditches in the future.

Cass County Board at Tuesday night's regular board meeting in Homebrook Township asked the Cass County Soil and Water Conservation District Board to compare the proposed federal regulations to state laws to help the board formulate a response during the federal comment period, now extended to Oct. 20.

Federal rules have required permits for over 25 years for issues regarding federal waters. The new proposal calls for federal regulation of any waters flowing into federal waters, including not only navigable waters, interstate waters or territorial waters, but also tributaries (ditches), wetlands and "other waters".

At a recent Association of Minnesota Counties regional meeting, Cass commissioners learned this could impact road ditches, farm drainage ditches, floodplains, comprehensive plans, watershed and storm water plans.

The county board wants to know how these proposed regulations differ from current state regulations, believing Minnesota already monitors its own waterways more comprehensively than many other states. If that proves to be the case, the board sees no reason for federal rules to supplant the state's already adequate system.

Work to replace the storm sewer system and County State Aid Highway 7 in Longville could be delayed. Bids the city opened recently for sewer work and the county opened June 16 for road construction ran much higher than engineering estimates.

The county had estimated the road work would run $974,913.50, but the lowest bid received ran $1,700,593.73 or close to double. Only two firms bid the project.

The city's bids for sewer work far exceeded their USDA grant for that project.

The county board voted Tuesday to table the road bids until the city of Longville can respond to the board on how it proposes to deal with the excessive costs.

County Engineer David Enblom indicated it could mean the city and county would have to try to re-advertise for bids next winter to attempt to get lower bids in the off season. That would delay both projects into 2015.

He also indicated outside the meeting that many Minnesota contractors are committed to projects in the North Dakota oil fields, making fewer area contractors interested in bidding on projects here. This has been a problem for Minnesota's border counties, but now is spreading throughout the state, he believes.

The commissioners declined to participate if a 1980 Pine River Municipal Airport Zoning Board is reactivated, believing local governments should handle that without county interference. Original members in the 1980 board also included Crow Wing County, Pine River, Chickamaw Beach and the towns of Barclay, Pine River, Wilson, Walden, Jenkins and Gail Lake.

Sheriff Tom Burch obtained board approval Tuesday to hire Motorola Solutions to maintain the county's 800 MHz emergency communications system for an annual rate of $49,325.16. He also obtained approval to spend $2,000 to replace chairs in the jail and to reimburse the Salvation Army $300 for services during a recent wildfire by Cass Lake.

Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson obtained board approval to award contracts to Storlie Construction for $10,795 to abolish structures and abate regulated material on two tax forfeited Cass Lake properties.

On solid waste issues, the commissioners voted to renew operator contracts through 2017 for the May Township and Birch Lake Township garbage transfer stations. They also approved increasing the amount paid to City Sanitary to collect corrugated cardboard on two routes from $205 to $255 and from $284 to $334 on a contract running through 2017.

Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson reported interest income the county received on investments through May ran $349,253.13 this year, compared with $336,038.55 in 2013.

Doug Schultz, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area fisheries supervisor, obtained county board support for the DNR's plan to purchase a land parcel in Turtle Lake Township abutting Uran Bay on Leech Lake that has extensive wild rice beds.