WORTHINGTON — Transportation projects dominated discussion during Tuesday's regular meeting of the Nobles County Board of Commissioners.
Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation called into the board meeting and provided an update about road projects planned within the county. In light of COVID-19, they explained, some projects have been pushed to later dates. Self-isolation and a stay-at-home order means fewer vehicles on the road, which translates to less revenue from Minnesota's gas tax — and that drop in funding means there isn't enough money to do everything as soon as had been planned.
One of the projects in question is the stretch of U.S. 59 between Worthington and Fulda. Last year, MnDOT said that would be redone in 2027, but it was revealed Tuesday that it has been pushed to 2029.
"How do you guys think that Highway 59 ... is going to last until 2027, much less 2029?" board chair Justin Ahlers inquired.
When the MnDOT representatives asked if the road was in "rough shape," Ahlers responded that "it would have to go up about three notches to be considered 'in rough shape.'"
Commissioner Gene Metz agreed.
"I don't know what kind of vehicle you drive these roads in — whether it's a luxury car, a pickup or a semi," he said, noting that semi trailers in particular have a difficult time navigating that stretch of highway.
"I don't want to criticize, but I will," he said.
Also on the topic of road construction, Nobles County Public Works Director Steve Schnieder proposed bituminous overlays on county state-aid highways 3, 4 and 5 to for inclusion in the 2021 paving projects. The board unanimously approved the request.
Additionally, safety improvements are needed along Crailshiem Road, Schnieder explained, in preparation for the planned intermediate school to open in the fall of 2022. The board approved the improvements with no objection.
Conditional use permit
With the recommendation of the Nobles County Planning and Zoning Commission, the board considered and approved a conditional use permit for Paul and Leanne Langseth to operate Langseth Lodge as a vacation rental.
Ahlers echoed planning board concerns about the potential for dust to be stirred up, noting that this is the first time dust control has been required for a small-scale commercial business in the county. A condition of the permit requires Langseth to do dust control — using water if needed — during events of 20 or more people at the lodge.
Justin and Al Langseth appeared at the board meeting in person to oppose approval of the permit. Justin Langseth claimed that there were "mistruths" stated during the planning board's finding of fact, although he did not name any specifically. He also objected to the allowance of 20 overnight guests and 100 guests at any one time.
"That's not a vacation rental," Justin said. "That is a man trying to run a for-profit event center."
He added that he'd approached the other neighbors to the Paul Langseth property and gotten them all to sign a petition that they didn't want the permit to be approved, although he did not provide a copy of the petition.
Al Langseth echoed concerns about dust, stating that prior to the planning board meeting, six of the commission members had visited the property, and three of them had commented on the dust.
Nobles County Attorney Joseph Sanow, who was participating in the meeting via phone, clarified that the question at hand was whether or not the property meets the legal criteria for the county's zoning ordinance. To deny the permit for any other reason, he said, would be arbitrary.
Community member Jennifer Hieb also weighed in, asking who would be responsible for enforcing the six conditions in the CUP.
"That's the purpose of the conditions," said commissioner Bob Demuth Jr., explaining that the planning board enforces the conditions and can pull the permit if conditions are not being followed.
"It has been done," he added.
After considering the planning board's findings, commissioners unanimously approved the CUP. It will be reviewed in three years.
The county must pre-certify the 2021 tax levy by the end of the month, and commissioners began discussing potential numbers Tuesday.
Pre-certification is not a final levy, but represents the highest possible levy for the coming year. Some commissioners suggested pre-certifying at a 4% increase, then working their way down to 0% as they get more information.
"I don't support anything higher than 1.92%," Ahlers said.
"I don't think any of us do," countered commissioner Matt Widboom, "but there's nothing to be gained from a worst-case-scenario attitude."
The board will revisit the discussion at its Sep. 22 meeting.
CARES Act funding
Sept. 15 is the deadline for townships to certify for eligible CARES Act funds, and only four townships had done so as of Tuesday's meeting. Little Rock Township asked for $4,825; Graham Lakes Township $5,700; Larkin Township $4,300; and Leota Township $9,400. That leaves $42,000 in unclaimed township funds, which will be returned to the state if not used.
"I refuse to send a single dollar back where it came from," Widboom said.
The county continues to encourage township boards to certify for funds they're entitled to, even if they don't think the township needs the money.
Also during Tuesday's meeting:
- The board approved a Nobles Home Initiative request from Colt and Kaitlin Bullerman.
- Board members approved Sheriff Kent Wilkening's request to hire an additional full-time correctional officer to replace one who recently resigned.
- Jerry Brake was appointed to the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed Board, and Jeff Rogers was appointed to the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed Board.