By Roz Kohls
Meeker County Board of Commissioners added $1 million Wednesday to the estimated cost of $500,000 for Dassel and Litchfield radio towers and a communication network in the county’s all-hazard mitigation plan.
Matt Johnson of Mid-Minnesota Development and Karla Hyberger, Meeker County’s assistant emergency manager, brought the county’s mitigation plan to the board for a public hearing. The plan is focused on what the county and state agencies will do before a disaster happens.
Before the tornado hit St. Peter, MN in 1998, city officials had a mitigation plan in which the city would build underground utilities. After the tornado devastated the St. Peter area, the city received $2 million from the federal government to replace the utilities, because it had a plan in place, Johnson said.
However, after Houston County was flooded in 2007, in southeast Minnesota, the area looked as if it was bombed, Johnson said. Houston County didn’t receive the same level of federal funding to mitigate the disaster as the surrounding counties did, because it didn’t have a plan in place, he added.
One of the mitigation strategies in Meeker County’s plan was to work with state agencies to assess the county’s ability to make communication interoperable with public works, schools, electrical co-ops, transportation, cities, emergency responders and law enforcement. Then every unit in the system will be able to communicate with every other unit.
Also, the Federal Communications Commission mandated the transition of all land mobile radio communication systems in the VHF and UHF radio frequency bands from a wide band mode to a narrow band mode by 2013.
The Dassel tower, at the intersection of Highways 12 and 15, and the Litchfield tower, south of Litchfield at Beckville, plus the county’s entire communication system, were to be developed into the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) system.
Originally, Johnson estimated gap funding for this development would be $500,000. That amount was based on what 10 other counties had, he said.
Meeker County Commissioner Wally Strand pointed out that $500,000 wasn’t nearly enough. As a result, the board amended the plan so the estimated cost for the communication network in the plan is $1.5 million.
In addition to communication strategies for mitigation in the plan, strategies are listed for all hazards, such as violent storms, extreme temperatures, flooding, droughts, wildfires, infectious disease, structural fires, hazardous materials, water supply contamination, and terrorism.
In other communication business, the county board authorized a partnership with the state for sharing the Litchfield tower. The county will purchase the property in Greenleaf Township. MnDOT will build the tower, and allow the county’s antennas on it, according to County Administrator Paul Virnig.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• approved a pay scale for seasonal snow plow operators. They are: Calvin Anderson, Ron Pagel, Dassel; Bill LaPlante, Kingston; Bruce Johnson, Cedar Mills; Rick Thompson, Crow River; Dennis Kielty, Forest City; Daniel Lotzer, Grove City; Eric Grimsgard, Jake Toutges, Cosmos; Randy Hamann, Rosendale; and Doug Mortenson, Rudy Burgstaler, Buck Hickman, Doug Kalkbrenner and Steve Blaha, emergency.
• listened to an update about the Darwin highway department shop. The county intends to sell the building, but parks department equipment is stored there. The county can’t move the equipment to an old MnDOT shop in Litchfield, however, until the Litchfield shop has contaminated soil removed from the site. The state is making progress on the clean-up, but the site isn’t ready yet, according to Virnig.
• added $815 to the assessments for work done on Meeker County Ditch 15, east of Lake Washington, to a list of assessments for 12 other county ditches, according to Barbara Loch, county auditor.
• approved the county’s health insurance contributions for the highway department and non-contract employees. The county’s share for single monthly premiums dropped to $492 from $549, and for family monthly premiums, dropped to $1,182 from $1,319. The employees will make up the difference.
• noted a letter from Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad that said trains through Grove City will increase their track speed to 60 mph from 40 mph.