The long-running stalemate between Wabasha County and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources over a significant fine levied against the county back in 2011 appears to be coming to an end. However, one question that county residents have been asking for several years still hasn’t gone away: where is the money coming from to pay the fine?
The Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) recently approached Wabasha County with a settlement proposal, and the County Commissioners will be discussing the settlement this Tuesday at it’s next board meeting. BWSR released the settlement proposal last Friday to interested parties, including several media outlets. Even though the information is now public, the Wabasha County Board is expected to discuss the settlement proposal in a closed-door session. Several residents want to know why.
The standoff between Wabasha County and BWSR first began back in late 2010. The former County Feedlot Officer, Troy Dankemeyer, had been overseeing a couple of Fiscal Year 2011 Feedlot Water Quality Grants, which were intended to help improve the manure management systems of two livestock feedlots. Dankemeyer resigned from his position in December of 2010, and BWSR, along with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, found several irregularities in the paperwork for these two grants, some of which were very serious.
BWSR fined the county over $115,000, with an extra $10,000 added to cover the investigation costs. The settlement proposal, however, lowers the total amount of money the county will have to come up with.
The settlement proposal lowers the cash payment from Wabasha County to BWSR down to just shy of $66,000. BWSR will agree to waive the cost of investigating the county, which was $9,294. BWSR will also apply the County’s share of the 2014 and 2015 Natural Resources Block Grants, which totals $24,813 each year, for a total of $49,626. The question still remains: how will the County come up with the money?
“The count doesn’t produce a product or generate it’s own revenue, so they’ll have to go to the taxpayers, unless they do the right thing and bring in the former county feedlot officer and have him answer questions,” said Wabasha County landowner and taxpayer Julie Porcher. Porcher spoke with KAAL TV on a report that aired last Friday night.
Julie outlined the situation and the questions she’d like to see answered in an earlier interview on a previous story:
Wabasha County Commissioner Don Springer was the only board member mentioned by name in the settlement proposal letter from BWSR. It appears Springer may be the only board member involved in the negotiations, much to the consternation of at least one other board member.
“Just thought you should know this commissioner has not been informed or included in any BWSR discussions as it pertains to settlements. This is not good government,” said Second District County Commissioner Deb Roschen in an email to KAAL TV reporter Jenna Lohse, the reporter who broke the story on television Friday night. Deb said, “The Wabasha County Administrator and the Wabasha County Attorney’s office have blocked my attempts at getting information. I was told that the document you showed on TV was not public information.”
However, Michael Plante, the Wabasha County Administrator, insists the county has been above board every step of the way. In an email, Plant said, “The County has cooperated with the Board of Water and Soil Resources efforts to look into any potential issues surrounding the Clean Water Fund Grants. Since the beginning of this situation, the County has worked to provide any documentation that’s been requested by BWSR, and has allowed them nearly unfettered access to all the documentation we have in our possession. In my opinion, the investigative report by BWSR, which is online for public viewing, was created primarily from documents and information provided by the County.”
Plante went on to say, “On October 8, the County did receive a settlement offer from BWSR, and the board will discuss it during a closed-door session at its next meeting on October 21. Until then, that’s the only comment I will have on the matter.”
The Board will meet Tuesday morning, with the proceedings starting at 9 a.m. The final item on its agenda includes a closed-door session to discuss the BWSR settlement.