Improved collaboration between Crow Wing County and the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District will better protect environmental resources, officials from both organizations stated.

The result of more than a year’s worth of meetings between the two groups is a new memorandum of understanding that shifts responsibilities such as nitrate testing and the creation of informational land use guides to the conservation district. The meetings also resulted in more clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each entity, reducing duplication of services and playing to the strengths and expertise of county and conservation district leaders.

Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor Jake Frie told the county board in late December the agreement is the culmination of a performance review conducted in 2018 by the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources. Frie said both organizations were commended for a number of successes in water resource management and wetland conservation, but the state board recommended an assessment to determine the best division of responsibilities and funding.

“Our partners believe that both entities are doing good work and meeting those objectives,” Frie said. “There are some new challenges for the county and SWCD that has created new opportunities for us to forge better relationships and more partners for the future of water planning.”

With the help of Tad Erickson, a senior transportation planner with the Region Five Development Commission, the groups nailed down areas in which there was room for improvement.

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Tad Erickson, senior transportation planner with the Region Five Development Commission, speaks during a Dec. 22 Crow Wing County Board committee of the whole meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins
Tad Erickson, senior transportation planner with the Region Five Development Commission, speaks during a Dec. 22 Crow Wing County Board committee of the whole meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

Frie said in two areas in particular, the county saw opportunities to benefit from the conservation district. These were coordination of watershed planning efforts and technical assistance — such as providing residents stewardship information on no-mow shoreline buffers, proper implementation of stormwater management plans and managing steep slopes. Frie said with the recent evolution in watershed protection planning efforts to expand beyond political boundaries, there are a number of partners generating reports, there was a need for standardization. The conservation district will serve as the collection point for this information to develop one overarching report for the Pine Watershed as part of the One Watershed, One Plan program.

“I think this is a great opportunity to work together in a more collective manner, and the end goal again is better customer service and to protect the resources of Crow Wing County, which again is Minnesota’s favorite place,” said Melissa Barrick, conservation district manager.

Melissa Barick, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District manager, participates in a Crow Wing County Board committee of the whole meeting Dec. 22. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins
Melissa Barick, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District manager, participates in a Crow Wing County Board committee of the whole meeting Dec. 22. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

After hearing details in late December, the county board took up the memorandum of understanding at its Jan. 26 meeting. The agreement received unanimous approval. It includes a $5,000 flat fee to the conservation district for the year to accomplish its new responsibilities on behalf of the county.

“Jake and Melissa have worked well together on this,” Commissioner Bill Brekken said Dec. 22. “I think it’s building a stronger partnership and we’re going to get very positive results. I think that the value add we’re going to get with this relationship is going to be very positive for Crow Wing County.”

Commissioner Bill Brekken speaks about partnering with the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District during a Dec. 22 committee of the whole meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins
Commissioner Bill Brekken speaks about partnering with the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District during a Dec. 22 committee of the whole meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

In other business Jan. 26, the county board:

Set a public hearing date for amending the all-terrain vehicle ordinance for Feb. 23. The only change proposed is to correct a mistake, reinstituting a restriction preventing ATVs from operating in the ditch along County Highway 66. This change was approved in 2016, but left out of an update to the ordinance in 2018 allowing ATVs to travel on the shoulder of all county roads.

Approved a resolution changing the designation of County Road 125, also known as Gull Lake Dam Road, from a county road to a county state aid highway. It’s becoming a state aid highway because Cass County is constructing a new bridge and roadway alignment near the Corps of Engineers Gull River Campground in the future.

Adding 2 miles of county state aid highway requires 2 miles be removed elsewhere in the system. In 2020, the county board revoked 0.7 miles of County Highway 20 to the city of Brainerd and reduced the length of County Highway 59 by 0.17 miles. Combined with 1.17 miles banked from previous changes to the system, this was enough to add Gull Lake Dam Road. The road will become known as County Highway 70 instead of County Road 125.

Authorized a letter of support for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, which is seeking funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services related to opioid treatment in Crow Wing County.

Amended contracts for legal services with four attorneys to include one-time $15,000 payments for extra workload experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorneys Raymond Horton, Melanie Dotty and Andrew Wipper serve as court-appointed attorneys for cases involving a child in need of protective services, permanency and termination of parental rights and child support contempt cases. Conrad Kragness services as the court-appointed attorney for commitments, including sexually dangerous psychopaths.

It’s possible these payments could be reimbursed, should additional state or federal stimulus funding be offered to local governments.

Approved several final payments to Anderson Brothers Construction Co.

The first was for spot surfacing on county highways 11, 12, 29, 36 and 49 and County Road 108. The final contract amount exceeded the original contract by 24.1% for a total of $306,257.40.

The board also approved a final payment to the same company for bituminous reconditioning on county roads 116, 123 and 153, along with various roads in the First Assessment District, Crow Wing Township, Ideal Township and the city of Breezy Point. The final amount for this work was $1,563,698.55, or 6% below the original contract.

Another payment to Anderson Brothers covered work on County Road 145, including a full-depth reclamation, grading and bituminous surfacing. It totaled $419,366.55, or 7.1% under the original contract.

The final payment approved for the construction company pertained to the reconstruction of County Highway 13 from County Road 137 to County Highway 4. The total for this work was $2,502,083.15, or 2.4% below the expected amount.

Approved a 2021 budget amendment of $65,725 from the tax-forfeited fund to finish projects approved in 2020 unable to be completed before year end. These include a picnic shelter at South Long Lake park and improvements at Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park.

Granted easement requests for Erik Westin of Westin Properties LLC for both private and utility easements across tax-forfeited property. The easement will allow Westin to gain access to future residential and commercial developments on nearby properties, the land services department stated in a request for board action. The easement extends eastward from Kennedy Road, a short dead-end street intersecting with County Highway 3.

Westin plans to pursue rezoning of the First Assessment District parcels and a variance request at a later date.

Appointed Crosby Police Chief Andy Rooney to the Crow Wing County Community Corrections Advisory Board to replace retired Brainerd Chief Corky McQuiston.

Accepted two donations toward the county’s unmanned aerial system: $100 from Granite Electronics and $2,000 from Cuyuna Range Fire Chiefs.

Approved the 2021 tobacco license renewal for the Cedar Chest in Crosslake.

Approved the hirings of Zachary Houle, property assessor in training in land services, and Cameron Havlik, a corrections officer in the sheriff’s office.

Approved the promotions and transfers of the following employees: Nathan Gunkel, probation agent, community services; Trevor Courneya, senior commercial/property assessor, land services; and Bobby Hall, accredited property assessor, land services.

Accepted the departures of the following employees: Jonti Roos, part-time deputy in the sheriff’s office; Janelle Vesely, program specialist in community services; and Mandolin Copa, financial worker in community services. The board also approved replacement staffing for these positions.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.