Commissioners direct staff to draft findings to deny landfill request
By Doug Voerding
The Wright County Board has effectively denied a zoning change that would have allowed the expansion of the Advanced Disposal Rolling Hills Landfill on County Road 37 in Monticello Township.
After four hours of public comment on Wednesday, Nov. 15, the County Board, meeting as a Committee of the Whole, directed staff, by consensus, to draft findings consistent with denial and recommended to the Board that it deny the zoning change from General Agriculture (AG) to General Industry District (I-1).
After the draft findings are prepared, the County Board is expected to vote on the denial at a regular meeting on Dec. 12.
The issue came to the Board after the Wright County Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 26 voted 3-3 on the rezoning application and then referred it to the County Board without a recommendation.
After the public hearing was closed, Commissioner Charlie Borrell said he serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission and supports the rezoning.
"This expansion supports the whole of Wright County," said Borrell. "We are not here to be bound by plans. Plans change. We have the right to rezone properties, and there is definitely a need for a facility like this. I have heard a lot of NIMBY (not in my backyard), but as a society we need to be tolerant of our neighbors. This is something we need."
Commissioner Christine Husom, who was opposed to the rezoning, said, "The issue before us is a land use plan. Of course, landfills have a place. I've researched burning or burying, and there are alternatives, less and less reason to put our garbage in landfills."
"I find it troubling," said Husom, "that a big outside company is coming to Wright County and asking to negate our land use plan. Industry belongs in industrial areas. I am supporting the citizens of the county and supporting the townships."
Commissioner Darek Vetsch said the arguments for the rezoning were "not sufficiently convincing."
"I cannot support a change in the zoning. The burden has not been met as required by ordinance 155.028A," said Vetsch.
Vetsch was referring to the county ordinance that states the criteria for granting zoning amendments. The ordinance reads, in part, zoning amendments "shall not be issued indiscriminately, but shall only be used as a means to reflect changes in the goals and policies of the community as reflected in the Policies Plan or changes in conditions in the County."
Commissioner Mike Potter referred to the North East Quadrant (NEQ) Land Use Plan.
"Everyone got to be a part of this land use plan," said Potter. "It met the needs of the citizens of Wright County at that time. I respect what they did."
Added Potter, "I'm open to re-examining the plan for possible amendments, but it seems to be working for Wright County citizens. I am not inclined to support spot zoning."
The NEQ states in part, "The agricultural designation are those areas appropriate to remain in agricultural use over the long term. Purpose is to both preserve productive farmland for the future and to protect agricultural activity from encroachment by other activities."
Sitting as chair of the meeting, Commissioner Mark Daleiden did not offer an opinion before the board gave the direction of denial to be prepared by county staff.
The request before the County Board was for a zoning change, needed before Advanced Disposal can seek a conditional use permit for the expansion.
And, while the issue was the zoning change, many of the comments, both for and against, focused on the proposed landfill use.
The 41 speakers at the public hearing were nearly divided in their position on the zoning change.
Representatives of Advanced Disposal opened the hearing by proposing the rezoning of 213 acres from GA to I-1, with 72 acres used for landfill. The landfill would not be used for municipal solid waste but only for construction debris.
The expansion, as proposed by Advanced Disposal, would be adjacent to an existing landfill. It would lower disposal cost of public construction and demolition projects that are paid for with public funds. The expansion would be expected to add six full-time jobs and would provide about $2 million in financial assurance fees to Monticello Township and Wright County over several years.
Several local truck drivers told the Board about the value of a construction debris landfill close to areas in the county where home and business construction is on the rise. Others noted the quality and care Advanced Disposal has given to the current landfill and the company's concern for the environment.
A group of area residents presented key points against the rezoning request. Those key points included that both the Wright County Code of Ordinances and the NEQ Land Use Plan provide guidance that suggests denial of the request. The residents also noted that the boards of Monticello, Buffalo and Maple Lake Townships all recommended denial.
The residents also said that property values would be reduced and that the large number of homes, lakes, wetlands, and forests make this a "terrible" location for a landfill.
Other residents questioned allowing the placement of industry in an agricultural zone, expressed that the change would have an impact on future generations, and suggested a change in course would be a betrayal of the public trust.
Wright County Drug Court celebrates first year success
Wright County's adult drug court program, "The Turn," marked its one-year anniversary during a public celebration at the Wright County Government Center on Thursday, Nov. 16. Judges, court staff and county officials joined members of the public as the program recognized its early success at helping Wright County drug offenders achieve sobriety.
According to a State Court Administration news release, The Turn targets individuals in the criminal justice system who are at high risk to re-offend and who are also in high need of services to address chemical dependency issues. To support individuals facing addiction, The Turn brings together justice system and community organizations to deliver treatment for chemical and mental health, as well as other services that foster positive change in the participants' behavior. The program provides strict supervision of offenders, including frequent drug testing and regular mandatory check-in court appearances. The program also stresses accountability for participants, and can utilize a range of immediate sanctions and incentives to foster behavior change. Completing the program takes between 18 and 24 months.
Wright County was awarded a three-year federal grant to support the launch of the drug court program in late-2016. The Turn accepted its first participant on Nov. 3, 2016 and has served a total of 15 Wright County residents since its inception. The majority of these individuals have been extremely successful in the program and have maintained months of sobriety. The first participant has more than one year of sobriety, which he credits to the program and the support provided by the drug court team and participants.
Over the past year, The Turn has provided intense supervision by conducting an average of 52 home visits, 100 drug tests, and 52 court appearances with each participant.
The Turn also received two $500 scholarships from the Methamphetamine Education and Drug Awareness Coalition of Wright County, with the money being used to offset the cost of providing incentives for program participants.
"While this is still a relatively new program, we are already beginning to see the positive impact this approach to tackling drug crime and addiction can have on our community," said Tenth Judicial District Judge Michele A. Davis, who presides over The Turn alongside the Honorable Geoffrey W. Tenney. "Right now in our program, we are seeing several people, formerly trapped in the cycle of addiction and crime, regaining control of their lives and achieving sobriety. I'm glad our community could come together today to celebrate the early success of this program, and I look forward to building on this momentum as we head into year two."
The Turn is overseen by a core team comprised of judges and staff from Wright County District Court, the Wright County Attorney's Office, the Wright County Sheriff's Office, the local public defender's office, and Wright County Health and Human Services, as well as a probation agent from Wright County Court Services and a chemical dependency counselor from Central Minnesota Mental Health Center.
Treatment Courts: A Proven Model
Over the past several years, Minnesota has experienced a significant expansion of drug court, veterans court and other treatment court programs across the state. Today, Minnesota has 57 treatment courts serving 60 of the state's 87 counties.
Since 2012, Minnesota has conducted three statewide evaluations of treatment court programs. These evaluations, as well as many other national studies, have shown the real, positive impact of treatment courts: reduced recidivism among participants, long-term cost savings in the criminal justice system, and better outcomes for offenders struggling with addiction, including higher rates of employment, stable housing, and educational attainment.
Military Table Lodge hosted by Masons, Legionnaires
By Ed DuBois
Taking place in the week following Veterans Day, a second annual Military Table Lodge event at Buffalo American Legion Post 270 honored those who served, or are serving, in the military. Hosted by Nelson Masonic Lodge No. 135 and American Legion Post 270, the well-attended event involved a seven-course dinner last Saturday evening, Nov. 18.
Before each course, toasts were offered in honor of those who served in: the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Wars. Final toasts included a "Let Freedom Forever Wave" toast, a "To the Fallen Comrade" toast and "The Tyler's Toast (a Masonic Lodge toast)."
Randal Dietrich, director of the Military Museum at Camp Ripley, was a guest speaker at the dinner, and he provided information about Minnesotans who served in the wars fought by America, beginning with the Civil War.
Jen Pecarina of the local Blue Star Mothers chapter also spoke. Proceeds from the dinner are supporting the Blue Star Mothers and their efforts to support the troops.
Pecarina talked about how military people helped get the Blue Star Mothers established. The very first meeting was in Flint, Mich. 75 years ago, and during a 75th anniversary event, she was able to stand in the very room where it all began, she said.
She spoke about preparing care packages and sending them to the troops, and she referred to the Blue Star Mothers as a sisterhood that supports and serves in honor of their sons and daughters, and all military people. Last Sunday, the day after the Military Table Lodge dinner, they gathered to work on filling Christmas stockings for deployed troops.
Presentations by Dietrich, between courses, began with history from 154 years ago, when the Battle at Gettysburg resulted in 50,000 casualties in just 3 days. In just 3 minutes, President Lincoln redefined the Civil War with his now famous address, which some people felt was divinely inspired, Dietrich said.
He spoke about the courageous charge by the First Minnesota, as 262 Minnesotans charged at 1,600 advancing soldiers from Alabama. Only 47 Minnesotans reported back, but they saved the day by delaying the enemy long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
The surviving Minnesotans were given what was considered a relatively safe position for the remainder of the battle. However, they ended up in a location where Pickett's charge took place.
Dietrich next talked about World War I, which was primarily a war in Europe until America joined the fighting in April 1917. He said 120,000 Minnesotans served in WWI. He mentioned that Camp Ripley started between the World Wars in 1929.
Just 20 years after World War I, another great war started, and Minnesotans aboard a destroyer, the USS Ward, fired America's first shot in World War II. Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Ward sunk a Japanese mini-sub.
In the Philippines, Minnesotans were among soldiers in a tank battalion who were captured by the Japanese.
A photographer from Minnesota, Walter Halloran, captured images all the way from D-Day to the liberation of concentration camps. He also served as a photographer in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
A general from Minnesota, John Vessey, fought in World War II at the Battle of Anzio and also served in Korea and Vietnam. He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from June 1982 to September 1985. After retiring, he was much involved with resolving the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
At the conclusion of his presentations, Dietrich encouraged everyone to "explore history." He mentioned that the gun from the USS Ward, which fired America's first shot of WWII, can be seen near the Capitol in St. Paul.
Zeiss fourth in state
Buffalo senior Alex Zeiss capped off her high school career finishing fourth in Class AA state diving last Saturday at the Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. Zeiss scored 423.30. She will dive next season at the University of Wisconsin. See story in Sports on page 1C. (Photo courtesy of Jared Hines).
Community service officer included in city budget
By Rob LaPlante
Effective January 2018, the proposed 2018 budget will include a community service officer to be employed full-time in the City of Buffalo.
The position will be filled by Tony Daniels, who was approved through recommendations by Police Chief Pat Budke and City Assistant Administrator Laureen Bodin at Monday's (Nov. 20) Buffalo City Council meeting. Daniels currently serves as a Police Reserve Officer.
Mayor Teri Lachermeier spoke highly about both the new position, and the person filling the role.
"If there were 50 people to choose from, I would choose Tony in a heartbeat," Lachermeir said. "Hopefully, this position will help solve some problems."
Chief Budke says the job description primarily will be as a code enforcement officer, who is someone that helps retain the community's appeal by enforcing land use ordinances.
The proposed 2018 budget also received a competitive quotation for the 2018 Health Insurance Benefits Plan.
Bodin addressed council, saying the city was originally scheduled for a 23-percent increase with their current health care provider, Medica. After testing the market, Health Partners offered an 18-percent increase. Medica countered with a 16-percent increase, which the city will factor into its 2018 budget.
One addition to the benefits is an employee assistance plan, set in place for employees not insured by the city. Due to the rising cost of insurance, a 2.5-percent cost-of-living raise will be handed to employees.
Donations were accepted in the amount of $100 from Daniel and Mary Meyers to the Bison Fishing Forever program, $250 from the Friends of the Library to the Flora of Buffalo program and $140 from Delano Elementary School Activity Fund to the Community Center Toy Shop.
Polling places for the 2018 Election were designated to four spots: Precinct #1 Buffalo High School, Precinct #2 Northwinds Elementary School, Precinct #3 Zion Lutheran Church, and Precinct #4 USPS Mail Delivery.
Sheriff's Office reports new phone scam
Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty reports the Sheriff's Office has received two reports on a new phone scam occurring in Wright County.
A caller claiming to be a "deputy" informs unsuspecting victims they failed to show up for jury duty and that they now have to pay a fine. The caller instructs the victims to send money electronically, drive to the Sheriff's Office to pay the fine, or offers to send a deputy to pick the victim up.
Neither reporter sent money.
Sheriff Hagerty said, "The Sheriff's Office will not call people informing them they owe money or missed jury duty."
He requests anyone who is subjected to this or other scams should contact the Wright County Sheriff's Office at 763-682-1162.
Finishing what he started
Despite cancer, Veteran Bob Larson completed two years as Legion Commander, and is still serving
By Ed DuBois
When giving advice to his grandchildren, Bob Larson likes to tell them, "If you start something, finish it." Two years ago, he was faced with a tough decision. He had just accepted the position of American Legion Post 270 Commander, and then he was diagnosed with cancer.
Well, a person can usually work around most challenges in life and finish something that was started. But cancer? That presents a whole new level of challenge.
The Legionnaires certainly would have understood if Bob had elected to step down. But he decided to give it a try.
He was able to complete his two-year term as commander (from 2015 to 2017), and now he remains active with the Legion. In fact, he is not only active, he has accepted the position of District Vice Commander.
"I responded to the treatments well," he said. "I get tired a lot, but I can handle that."
Besides living up to the advice he gave his grandchildren, Bob was inspired by his wife and a granddaughter. They are both cancer survivors.
Grew up in Rochester
Bob and his wife, Jennifer, have been married 49 years. They were high school sweethearts in Rochester, and they went steady about eight years.
Finally, Jennifer could wait no longer for a proposal.
"Here's Jennifer's proposal to me," Bob recalled. "She said, 'Either we are getting married or I am moving to California with my girlfriends.'"
Bob doesn't believe she would have actually moved to California, but he well understood the message.
Now, 49 years later, they have a son in Delano and a daughter in Orono, and seven grandchildren.
Born and raised in Rochester, Bob graduated from John Marshall High School in 1962. He then earned a two-year degree at Rochester Junior College.
While in college, he worked at a local TV station, KROC. He said he was a cameraman while he was in college.
Wanted to fly
His dream at the time was to become a Navy jet pilot and then get a job as an airline pilot. He took flying lessons at the local airport and obtained a single-engine pilot's license.
Surprisingly, he suffered from airsickness in the beginning. He worked out an arrangement to address the problem. His first four flying lessons were only half-an-hour long. This helped him get over the airsickness.
In 1965, he applied to become a Navy pilot. At the time, he only needed two years of college, but during a delay that involved completing paperwork that was required because his mother was from Canada, the college requirement changed. He suddenly needed a four-year degree.
A decision needed to be made. Should he go back to school or apply to become a helicopter pilot in the Army?
He was young and did not want to wait two years. Even though he knew he would likely end up getting shot at in Vietnam, he applied for helicopter flight training in the Army. However, he was turned down because of a back injury he had suffered in the eleventh grade.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops were sent to fight in Vietnam.
Joined the Army
Bob did not want to be drafted. He joined the Army so he could have some say about the type of duty he would perform. He was in the Army from 1966 to 1972.
During basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C., Bob achieved a perfect score of 100 on his individual proficiency test. During rifle qualifications, he was an expert with the M-14.
For advanced training, he studied ordnance repair at the Aberdeen (Maryland) Proving Ground and was the top student in the class.
Bob was assigned to the 544th Heavy Equipment Maintenance Company as an ordinance repair specialist. Locations where he served included Wabasha, Minn. and Fort McCoy, Wis.
He worked on all types of rifles, as well as .45-caliber pistols. The work kept him busy.
"Stuff was always breaking," he commented.
Repairs of M-1 and M-14 rifles were usually simple. The M-16 was a bit different.
"The BAR (M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle) had a very different setup. The bolt split in half," Bob mentioned.
He eventually figured out each weapon.
"After you learn to fix one, you learn to fix 'em all," he said.
Didn't like standing in line
He rose in rank from Private to Private First-Class, and then to Specialist 4 and Specialist 5.
He was waiting for acceptance as an Ordinance Warrant Officer when he was discharged.
Asked about life in the Army, he said there was one thing he did not appreciate.
"I didn't like standing in line," he said. "I still don't."
Worked for Valspar
In civilian life, Bob worked 25 years for the Valspar Corporation, a worldwide paint manufacturer. Positions he held included: territory sales manager, district sales manager, regional sales manager, and national account manager. He began in Baltimore for five years and then worked in downtown Minneapolis. He also worked for a time in Albany, N.Y.
Approaching retirement, Bob and Jennifer looked for a place where they could be close to their children and grandchildren. They found a home in Buffalo and moved from Plymouth to Buffalo 15 years ago. Jennifer's work was as a contract underwriter with a mortgage business.
Looking for an organization to join, Bob became the president of the local Let's Go Fishing with Seniors chapter in 2012. He was president for three years.
Became a Legionnaire
He also joined American Legion Post 270, first as a member of the honor guard. Later, he became the 2nd Vice Commander, and then in 2015, he became the Commander.
"The week after I was nominated for post commander, I was diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer," Bob said. "I thought about withdrawing my nomination but decided to accept the post commander position and not worry if my cancer would keep me from serving my two-year commitment."
Today, he is the Jr. Vice Commander, which he said is the same as Past Commander.
Another Past Commander, Bonnie Hanson, was serving as the Tenth District Commander last year, and she asked Bob if he would serve as the District Vice Commander. Bob accepted, and now he visits posts all over the district and promotes American Legion membership efforts.
Quality of life
He still has cancer, but the treatments have been allowing him to enjoy a relatively good quality of life, he said.
Along with his American Legion activities, Bob was invited to join the 40 & 8 organization with St. Cloud Voiture 415. He described 40 & 8 as a Legion offshoot.
It was created in 1920 as an honor society of Legionnaires. The invitation-only organization gets its name from World War I, during which soldiers were transported to the front lines in France in narrow railroad boxcars called voitures. They could either hold 40 soldiers or 8 horses.
Purposes of the 40 & 8 organization include: promoting Americanism, supporting a national nursing scholarship program, supporting child welfare programs, and providing aid to veterans.
Bob has been recently elected Chef de Gare (post commander) of St. Cloud Voiture 415. Previously, he served at Drapeau (keeper of the flag), Garde de la Porte (inner door guard, sergeant at arms) and Chef de Train (train master, vice commander). In 2015, he was appointed Grand Drapeau for the Grand Voiture.
Finished what he started
"Serving in the 40 & 8 is a little more fun than the Legion. We hold meetings at Legion posts and raise money mostly for nurse training scholarships," Bob said.
His service in the American Legion and the 40 & 8 organization has cut into his retirement time, but he doesn't seem to mind.
Fellow Legionnaires certainly would have understood if he had decided to step down after his cancer diagnosis, but he chose to finish what he started.
After all, that's what he tells his grandchildren to do.