<HR><CENTER><B>County puts temporary<br> hold on gravel permits</B></CENTER>

Commissioners buy time to study balance

between rural living and gravel industry

By Sara Quam

In light of recent gravel extraction controversies, the Rock County Board of Commissioners voted to hold action on new permit requests for up to one year to allow time to study gravel issues.

Effective immediately, the board passed an interim ordinance and moratorium, from a minimum of 60 days to a maximum of one year, subject to review of the county attorney. The moratorium will allow time to study how a balance between rural living and economic development can be achieved.

Tuesday’s action comes in the wake of heated public meetings this summer over a request by Henning Construction to extract gravel from a rural neighborhood south of the airport. That permit was eventually denied, but discussion since then has focused on rezoning areas to prevent future controversy.

Rock County isn’t alone in its search for this balance. The statewide issue will be discussed at the next Association of Minnesota Counties meeting, but the board felt it necessary to avoid conflict until the issue gets more study locally.

Land management

The Board also approved a new Land Management Plan, which updates information, and a Planning and Zoning Ordinance, which updates the enforcement of the ordinances.

The policy guide was reviewed and updated to respond to changes in times and conditions. The plan, available for public viewing, is divided into seven chapters: Population and Demographics, Economic Development, Housing, Climate and Physical Features, Transportation and Infrastructure and History and Recreation.

The most noticeable change to the ordinance plan is the fee schedule. Variance and conditional use hearings will increase from $250 to $500 and from $300 to $500. The hearings actually cost the county $1,075, so the fees do not account for all costs.

Those increased fees affect the gravel business and not feedlots. Land Management Office Director John Burgers said state money set aside for managing the feedlot program helps compensate for those user fees so not increasing feedlot charges is justified.

The argument can be made that agricultural businesses and gravel businesses should be charged the same for permits regardless of state aid, but Burgers said feedlots require fees for additional inspections so the scale is fair.

"I think it’s more important to spend time with inspections on site, and spend money there, than in hearings where no one shows up," Burgers said.

"We looked at where our costs are and where we’re recouping."

The new ordinance book includes guides for wind and wireless towers for the first time. Dwellings now require two acres instead of one, which makes it more suitable for septic system guidelines and roadway setbacks.

In other business Tuesday the board:

  • Drafted a resolution on the driver’s exam testing station to be sent to the Commissioner of Public Safety. The resolution says the state should provide the service because the county will be harmed by a test-station relocation. It says that since fees are equal statewide, testing sites should be available to all residents within a reasonable distance.

  • Accepted a petition asking that County State Highway 16 be paved and maintained by Rock County. The petition asks for pavement on a two-mile section that continues into Nobles County. The east-west gravel road that intersects Highway 75 two miles south of Luverne has similar traffic counts to other roads in the county, according to County Engineer Mark Sehr. He said it has been in the five-year plan to improve existing paved roads before adding more to the system. The petitioners have also approached the Nobles County Board with the petition.

  • Heard an update from Randy Ehlers on the flex plan in the Family Services. He said many employees have started to use the system to work 40 hours a week in fewer days, and customer service has been maintained.

    He also said he is proposing legislation that would make the Department of Corrections responsible for investigating allegations of maltreatment in DOC licensed juvenile facilities.

    Ehlers said the rules and regulations of those facilities are too specialized for Family Service agencies to investigate on their own. Each case takes about 40 hours of personnel time, and Ehlers said the unfunded mandate is unfair to the county to pay for.

  • Heard a request from Don Amos for additional work to be done on Shoneman Park’s driveway. He represented a group that wants the county to extend the parking lot and driveway so fishers can access the water with less walking. The work would involve about 300 feet. The county is also considering installing another dock for the south pond.
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