Discussion and questions about land purchases involving the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park has been the source of some controversy at the Wright County Board of Commissioners for years.
Prior to this year, practically every vote that was made by the county board as it pertained to funding for the $20 million project resulted in a 3-2 vote, with two commissioners consistently voting against continued funding of the project.
At the April 9 meeting of the board, a request was made for the county to schedule a public information meeting and to present a full financial information plan as to what has been expended to date and what can be anticipated to be spent in the future.
Tim McGregor, representing a group of interested county residents, said that detailed information has been hard to come by as to the county’s plan for the park and asked that the county board show a little more transparency of the project.
“The Bertram Chain of Lakes is a $20 million project,” McGregor said. “Yet, for the size of this project, there has been very little in the way of providing financial information to the public.”
Among the information the residents want to know includes who will own the property once the land purchases are completed, what is the current status of the project and what is the relationship between the county and the city of Monticello?
The county and the city have split the local cost share for the land acquisition and McGregor wasn’t alone in wanting to delineate what rights the county and city will have in the project. Commissioner Charlie Borrell echoed the same concerns. While praising the city for its ongoing commitment to the project, he added that he would like to see the park divided into areas that would be the responsibility of the county and those areas that would be owned by the city.
He said those questions remain unanswered and he would like to see that issue addressed as well.
McGregor provided the board with a spreadsheet he would like to see completed by the county so residents can get a better handle on the project and, given its size and the continued need for funding, he believes the county should have been conducting public meetings all along.
“We feel a project of this size and scope not only deserves a public hearing, we believe it requires one,” McGregor said.
“The residents of Wright County deserve to be made aware of how the project has been funded and what the plans are for the future,” he added.
The board set a public meeting of the parks committee of the whole for 6 p.m. Monday, May 13 in the county board room.
At that time, a full financial breakdown of what has been completed to date will be distributed to those in attendance.
In other items on the April 9 agenda, the board:
• Tabled approval of a contract with Houston Engineering for the drafting of a technical memo on County Ditch 38. The approval was held up to allow for a site survey to determine whether the tile line that runs under a railroad bed is functional or needs to be replaced.
• Approved a memorandum of understanding with the union representing highway department workers to allow employees to work under four-day, 10-hour work weeks starting April 15 and running through the third week of September in both 2013 and 2014.
• By a 4-1 vote, approved a request from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire 45 acres of land adjacent to Pelican Lake in St. Michael as an addition to the Pelican Lake State Wildlife Management Area. In recent years, the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have purchased more than 900 acres of protected land around the lake. Commissioner Christine Husom voted against the proposal, saying she didn’t have enough background information at this point to make an informed decision on whether the additional purchase was needed.
• Announced that bid openings for the summer projects of the highway department would be opened Friday, April 12. The schedule was set to open bids for seasonal requirements at 9:30 a.m., bids for 2013 overlay projects at 1:15 p.m. and bids for the CSAH 75 pavement preservation project for 1:30 p.m.
• Approved an employee contest to submit cost-saving ideas to the county board. The top two suggestions will receive gift cards and the rules call for any idea that can reduce waste or improve efficiencies. Commissioners Mark Daleiden and Husom will be in charge of accepting and ranking the submissions.
• Authorized signatures with the cities of Hanover and St. Michael for a funding participation agreement for the construction of the Beebe Lake Trail Project. The project is a collaborative effort between the county’s parks and highway departments and the two cities and will construct a trail with road right of way of CSAH 34 from CSAH 19 in Hanover to Beebe Lake County Park.
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.