County gets report on Green Valley Fire
By Rin Porter
Sheriff Mike Carr delivered a riveting presentation on the activities that took place during the Green Valley Fire emergency from May 14 to 18 at the May 23 meeting of the Wadena County Board.
Assisted by Chief Deputy Bill Cross, Carr described the efforts of 53 agencies to fight the fire, evacuate a nursing home and more than 1700 other county residents, reroute traffic around the fire area, and provide food, water, and toilets to the firefighters and first responders.
Many of the details have already appeared in the media, but Carr wanted to praise the cooperation among law enforcement agencies and emergency responders, the DNR, Minnesota Incident Command System personnel, MnDOT, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Minnesota National Guard, and local churches and citizen volunteers.
The fire burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 55 structures, but there were no deaths and no injuries – an amazing result, Carr said.
“We couldn’t have done it without the helicopters and planes [supplied by the Minnesota National Guard],” Carr asserted.
He said that Board Chair Dave Hillukka, who is the commissioner for the district where the fire took place, was on hand at the command center along with the Menahga mayor. Their presence was helpful to other local officials in making decisions and planning logistics.
“We pulled resources from everywhere,” Carr said.
The cost of the fire to the county in overtime and other expenses of the Sheriff’s Department was over $8,000. Sheriff Carr hopes that FEMA may reimburse most of these costs.
“It was a total team effort,” Hillukka said “These guys worked together as complete professionals.”
“This fire could have been a killer, but it wasn’t,” Cross said.
The new 800 mgH emergency radio system was an invaluable tool, Carr said. He compared the smooth communication during the fire to the communication chaos during the June 17, 2010, tornado, which occurred before the new radio system was installed in Central Minnesota.
Also at the May 23 board meeting, commissioners heard a report from Marian Ridge, director of the Kitchigami Regional Library that serves Wadena and other counties in Central Minnesota. Ridge explained why the library board voted to end the use of the mobile library in Wadena County.
The expense of the large vehicle and its personnel and diesel fuel could no longer be covered by library revenues, Ridge said. The library board is exploring other options for serving rural Wadena County, including short-term dropoffs, community agencies such as senior centers storing library materials, and partnerships with school libraries.
Judge Sally Ireland Robertson attended this part of the board meeting to express her strong opposition to the ending of the mobile library services, and to urge Ridge to make every effort to serve rural areas of the county.
Judge Robertson said, “I think we need to do everything we can to help the rural library access survive.”
In other business, the board:
--Approved awarding a contract to L & B Excavating, Menahga, for the demolition of three tax-forfeited houses in Sebeka that have become dangerous and uninhabitable. L&B was the low bidder at $19,863 to perform the work.
--Accepted a grant for $22,600 from FEMA to update the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. Region 5 employees will perform the work of gathering citizen input, drafting the new plan, and presenting it to the county over the next 12 to 18 months.
--Approved the installation of an additional area of concrete floor in the Sheriff’s Building at the county fairgrounds. The concrete pour will be done in connection with a previously planned pour of half the building’s floor area. The Sheriff’s building was supposed to be completed by Jan. 18, but the contractor, Black Pearl Builders LLC, of Cold Spring, did not comply with the required dates for work. County Engineer Ryan Odden, who is supervising the rebuilding of the fairgrounds, has warned the company and its bonding agent that the county will cancel the contract if work is not completed by June 6. None of the company’s bills submitted to the county have been paid because of the company’s failure to complete the work on time.
--Approved the awarding of the contract for the Highway Safety Improvement Project in the county to the low bidder, Century Fence Co. of Forest Lake. The low bid was $174,199, and will be used for road striping.
--Argued extensively over the placement of the clay track at the fairgrounds in relation to the grandstand, the rodeo area, the proposed future baseball field, and other activities that may occur in the future. The board voted to place the clay track 40 feet away from the grandstand, and pay $7,500 for clay to be installed as a track surface.
--Approved an emergency appropriation and change order for an unnamed excavating contractor currently working at the fairgrounds, to replace ancient clay tile under a fairgrounds road, at a cost of about $8,600.
--Agreed to consider increasing the 4-H coordinator from ¾ time to full-time in 2014, at the request of Ben Anderson and Penny Nelson of the University Extension Committee. The increase would cost the county about $16,000 per year in additional salary for the coordinator.
--Appointed a committee to meet with the Wadena City Council to discuss the possibility of having the county provide police services for the City of Wadena beginning in the near future.
Committee members from the county are Commissioners Stearns and Hillukka. They will meet with City of Wadena committee members Mayor Wayne Wolden, City Administrator Brad Swenson , and City Council member Toby Pierce.
--Appointed a committee to meet with bargaining unit representatives to discuss whether the county should request proposals for health insurance programs for county employees. Also approved advertising for proposals from experienced health insurance agents for the purpose of hiring an Agent of Record for the county to work with the insurance committee.