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Commissioners hear rave drone reviews

NEW ULM — Brown County Commissioners heard rave reviews about the use of the county-owned drone in June 1 elevator firefighting efforts near Sleepy Eye and in New Ulm.

“They saved a lot of time. The drone was invaluable, nice to have. Fire departments loved it,” Brown County Sheriff Jason Seidl said about using drones and cameras directed fire fighting efforts to fire hot spots.

Seidl displayed photos taken by drone cameras of the Christensen Family Farms grain storage silos. One of the photos displayed different colors to point out fire hot spots.

“At first, I felt they were expensive. But they’re useful and could save lives,” said commissioner Tony Berg.

Nobody was injured in the fires at Christensen Family Farms several miles east of Sleepy Eye. The fire drew firefighters from Sleepy Eye, New Ulm, Springfield, Hanska and Comfrey.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office reported no suspected foul play was involved in the explosion and fire.

One man was injured in an explosion and fire the same day at the Farmers Cooperative of Hanska Burdick Division site on Water Street in New Ulm. New Ulm and Sleepy Eye Fire Departments, New Ulm Police, the Brown and Nicollet County Sheriff’s Offices, State Patrol, and Allina Medical Transportation responded to the fire.

The fires were investigated by the Minnesota State Fire Marshalls Office.

Commissioners also approved:

• Awarding contracts to appropriate bidders contingent on City of Sleepy Eye approval, for CSAH 34 and CSAH 35 projects, motion by Commissioner Dave Borchert, seconded by Dean Simonsen.

M.R. Paving & Excavating, Inc. bid $4,099,529.99 for the projects, 14.61% over the $3,576,810 engineer’s estimate. Projects will be funded with county regular and municipal state aid, wheelage tax, county and City of Sleepy Eye local funds in the current 10-year program.

Bids were opened June 9, 2021. Projects are scheduled to begin on or before June 28 and take up to 60 working days to complete.

The 0.847 mile CSAH 34 road segment is planned for mill and overlay surface rehabilitation with ADA pedestrian ramps. The segment was last surfaced in 1996. It has cracks, is weathered and in need of rehabilitation.

The 0.587 mile CSAH 35 road segment is planned for a complete reconstruct with ADA pedestrian ramps. Sleepy Eye will construct water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The segment was last surfaced in 1995 and has many cracks and weathering. Underground utilities are very old and need updating.

• By a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Scott Windschitl and Tony Berg dissenting, adding an administrative assistant county veterans service officer position to the Veteran’s Dept. 2022 budget, motion by Borchert, seconded by Simonsen.

The position has a $41,766 annual salary plus health insurance if needed. Preferred starting date is July 1, 2022 to take advantage of a State FY23 CVSO (County Veterans Service Officer) grant for partial salary, training, and office furniture.

“We are falling behind in submitting our claims because walk-ins demand immediate assistance. Collectively, we receive more than 60 communications (email and voice) that deserve a response within 24 hours. Deaths require immediate action to stop VA benefits, arrange burial locations, obtain flags, and meet with grief-stricken families,” Brown County Veterans Service Officer Greg Peterson wrote in the board request.

• In his annual report, Peterson said his office won a $442,380.84 Agent Orange death claim plus $1,357 per month for life, that was on appeal for 16 years.

“That really made us feel good,” Peterson said.

Of 97 federal benefit claims filed last year, 84 (86%) were granted, 13 were denied, two were appealed and both won.

In addition, the Brown County Veterans Service Office processed 56 COVID-19 grants that paid $60,000 to Veterans or widows.

• By a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Windschitl dissenting, adding a health educator/planner to the 2022 public health budget, motion by Borchert, seconded by Simonsen. Windschitl said he wanted to see “solid” cost numbers and other possible funding resources for the job.

The position fulfills many duties required by state statute and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) grant requirements.

The position was filled by intermittent, part-time staff during the COVID-19 response and was found to be extremely valuable and necessary, Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz wrote in the board request.

The position would do outreach and education to the public in person and various media sources, do ongoing data analysis for program areas, among other duties. Position funding would be primarily from a local public health grant.

• Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said her office offers COVID-19 vaccine clinics from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Thursday and is focusing on vaccinating home-bound people.

Moritz said she’s pleased with high vaccination number for people over 50 but there is lots of vaccination work to do on those under age 50.

“We’ll do vaccinations at Springfield Riverside Days,” said Moritz. “We’ve been approached to do vaccines by Sleepy Eye Brewing and New Ulm Crazy Days.”

• A conditional use permit application filed by Jay Parker on property owned by Oak Shores LLC, Section 30, Lake Hanska Township to allow a campground with up to six campsites all in the Shoreland Protection Zoning District, motion by Borchert, seconded by Simonsen.

DeAnn Lenz, formerly known as DeAnn Anderson, rural Hanska, wrote a letter objecting to the permit due to removal of multiple trees she felt would be detrimental to the habitat for many deer, geese, ducks and other wildlife in the area.

At the meeting, a woman complained about speeding drivers and the number of children in the area.

“I haven’t seen children on the gravel road. I don’t know who you are talking about speeding. If so, call law enforcement,” Parker said.

Parker said he applied for permits and plans to install a septic holding tank.

“I think I’m doing this by the book. I want to be a good neighbor,” Parker said. “I think it’s time to do this. I’ve had three hearings. There are people grasping at straws here.”

Commissioner Windschitl said a requirement for campground storm shelters should be included in future applications.

Brown County Zoning Administrator Laine Sletta said the Brown County Planning & Zoning Board recommended application approval.

• An application filed by Thomas Rose, Section 7, Cottonwood Township, to continue to allow use of a sign and decal making business, motion by Simonsen, seconded by Windschitl.

• An application filed by Theodore Anderson Prairie Agronomics, Section 36, Burnstown Township, renewing an existing permit allowing a 595 animal unit beef steer feedlot operation, all in the A-1 Agricultural Protecting Zoning District, motion by Commissioner Jeff Veerkamp, seconded by Borchert.

• An application filed by Jack Forsberg, Section 5, Milford Township, splitting existing platted lots into three new platted lots, all in the A-1 district.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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