A sinking concern over public works
In light of the recent developments with the Public Works Complex, some issues apparently continue to arise.
In the last episode of the saga, questions were raised concerning the land being designated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as unbuildable. The county responded with documents refuting the claims, and although there was a “agree to disagree” from both sides, the project continued.
After the commissioners visited several other facilities in our region, the board came back to the table and decided to cap the cost of the building project at $5 million. Of course that doesn’t include the costs already incurred in the project which is somewhere around $3.5 million.
The newest red flag that has gone up has been posed by Steele County resident, Brian Kosel who was an ag teacher for Owatonna public school. Kosel has degrees in soil management and has brought up some claims concerning the irrigation, runoff and the building site that has been saturated with water.
“Looking out for the taxpayer’s interests isn’t a waste of my time, and I will keep at it regardless of misguided attacks on my motivations or mischaracterizing of my efforts,” said Kosel.
One of the claims comes against Public Works Director and County Engineer Anita Benson.
“The Farmland Protection Agency, was not signed off on by the Steele County Soil and Water Conservation District and Anita Benson remarks that there will be no problem,” said Kosel. “This is a required document by FEMA and is very similar to the “no net loss wetlands policy” that is fully criminalized by the DNR and Soil and Water Conservation Department.”
Another point of contention is a questioning of the Cumulative Impacts section IV of the environmental assessment for the Public Works Complex.
“Anita Benson states in the FEMA document that “ALL” surrounding property is city developed,” Kosel states. “and that all land surrounding this County Shop is fully developed. There is a holding pond, farmland and a food grade irrigated waste water field that doesn’t look urbanized or developed at all. In fact, the irrigated land by NRCS survey is not compatible to dumping food grade waste on this soil.”
Kosel submitted a photograph citing specifically “a concrete culvert” that allows food waste water to flow out of the pond into a farm drainage tile when they pump too much waste water into the pond.
“This is to keep the pond from over flowing and running south through the County Public Works site’ and running through the site, over Crane Creek road which is old high way #14 and way down to Mills Fleet Farm at the on ramp to 35W South,” Kosel said and then asked, “Who allowed this overflow pipe to be installed?”
Commissioner Jim Abbe commented concerning some of the past and present issues raised by Kosel and his response was, “I personally spoke with Mr. Kosel for more than one hour on this very subject. I have read the Federal Emergency Management Agency report and would ask that the press or any concerned tax-paying citizen please direct us to what state and/or federal regulation has not been adhered to so we can follow up further.
“When Mr. Kosel addressed the board with this, we were there to hear him out and investigate further, which we immediately asked our County staff do. Unfortunately, we as a new board do not get to go back and question why this site was selected, but only find a solution that is workable for the taxpayers.”
It is evident that there are yet bugs to work out concerning this project, and there are yet differing views on whether to proceed or to go back to section IV, alternative IV of the assessment that would be the option of renovating an existing building and selling the property that has been partially developed.
The completion of this ground to make it buildable is still an estimated $300,000 in upcoming costs which may or may not be a low estimate considering what has to be done.
Commissioner Gnemi who is a licensed appraiser offers what may be the biggest red flag to the project.
“Regarding the water flow issues as they relate to the parcel of land on which the proposed building for the county highway building are concerned and the issues raised by Mr. Brian Kosel at the last county commissioner meeting, I can only state that I have visited the parcel several times over the past few weeks and it remains to be very wet. As an appraiser, I would be raising that concern to the owner and/or potential builder based upon my observations of that parcel.
“I have been of the opinion before I was elected, during the campaign and after I was elected that the county should be pursuing the purchase of an existing commercial building which would be thoroughly adequate, suitable, and compatible with the needs of the county highway department versus the building of a newly constructed building. That position has not changed even with my visitation to several other counties and the buildings they have in place for their county highway departments.
“The county will still have to bring in more sand for the proper drainage of the parcel of land in question resulting in more taxpayer dollars to be spent on this unfortunately. Whether the county should pursue building on this parcel is still a major question in my mind given the wetness of this parcel. Even if the county ends up constructing a new building for the county highway department, I believe given the information from Met-Con, the county would end up spending significantly less than what the prior commissioners proposed, and the county would have a very suitable, functional and adequate building.”