Local government

What the Polk County Board was going to consider

Greg Marsten | Staff writer
BALSAM LAKE – The regular monthly meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors originally slated for Tuesday, March 17, was postponed to no particular date, at press time, due to large crowd gathering concerns, a move that unfolded in mere hours after a cascade of decisions to cancel or postpone public meetings, including a public hearing to air opinions on the future users and/or nonusers of the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail, originally set for Unity High School auditorium for Monday, March 16, but again postponed indefinitely.
The Polk County Board had several items of action to consider, including a possible reversal of interest for the Clam Falls Dam, which is slated to be drawn down in the coming months, with removal in the next two years. A growing public effort to stop or reverse the drawdown has reached county board consideration for possible support.
The action item was a proposed resolution directing the Polk County administrator to investigate options for saving the Clam Falls Dam, which the county does not own nor has any direct interest in, unlike the Atlas Dam, which the county owns and has an adjacent park and pond.
Polk County has stayed more or less out of the process of dam removal plans by the power utility that owns it, but citizen concerns have been expressed to several board members, who have discussed the planned removal in several committees of late.
“Basically, I think we should get someone to get the DNR to not do the drawdown yet,” stated Supervisor Chris Nelson, who sponsored the resolution to investigate those Clam Falls Dam options. ”That would give us more time to try and get this worked out, to see if there’s a process to hold this up.”
The comments came at the Polk County general government committee meeting on Thursday, March 12, where the now-postponed meeting of the full board was being discussed.
The comparison between the Clam Falls Dam and the Atlas Dam maintenance issue was brought up several items, but county Administrator Vince Netherland and board Chair Dean Johansen noted several differences, including the price tags, which are dramatically different.
But Nelson said the difference between saving and drawing down and removing the Calm Falls Dam is “several hundred thousand dollars,” and should “at least be investigated before it becomes too late.”
Johansen disagreed with Nelson, stating the that there was very little public interest in saving the Clam Falls Dam, as they don’t have a county standing in the matter.
“I just don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayers money to save a private campground, without access to the public,” Johansen said. “This has nothing to do with public lands.”
“There’s no public money in this resolution. I’m not for spending Polk County funds, but I am in favor of finding a way to try and save it,” Nelson sad.
The committee voted to send the Clam Falls Dam future possibility to the full county board, although when they will get to that meeting remains unclear.
Also on the county board agenda was a resolution to set the compensation for several elected officials, which has been discussed in several committees and was set to be considered for a final value at the board meeting.
Two other items on the agenda asked the board to support specific recommendations to state officials involving the Second Amendment and making the county a “sanctuary” for legal firearms ownership. The measure drew a crowd of almost two dozen supporters at the Thursday meeting, but there was no real committee discussion, except on any perceived need or legal impact of the resolution.
The other resolution the board was/is going to consider involves the support of mandatory minimum sentencing for certain crimes, as well as support for a so-called “three strikes” law for criminals with two convictions in a decade, that their third “strike” would have specific minimum prison consequences.
“It is a lobbying resolution, looking at sentencing guidelines,” county attorney Malia Malone noted, adding that one of the issues with such a law is that more cases might not be settled without a trial, taxing the court system, since a third strike might require prison, if convicted, leaving defendants with no real loss if they go to trial instead of a guilty plea deal. “There’s a real concern attorneys might move more cases to trial … clogging the courts.”
Netherland noted that while there is no perceived cost on the resolution, it may lead to long-term additional costs that could be significant, requiring extra court personnel, another judge, etc., if passed. “Are we prepared for those extra costs of, say, an extra judge or assistant district attorney?”
“We’re going to have to pay for them (convicts) anyway,” Nelson responded. “Polk County is getting known for repeat drug and methamphetamine dealers.”
The county board is also expected to get several updates on a variety of pending issues, from the latest on the Polk County Fairgrounds projects for a new truck-pulling setup, as well as the latest on the delayed sale of the Woodley property, after concerns were raised about the legality of just one county committee reviewing or deciding on the sale and effectively subdividing the property like a developer.
“Is that in the county’s best interest?” asked Polk County general government committee Chair Russ Arcand.
Nelson agreed that there may be questions to answer on the whole process, as well as the decision to sell.
“Do they (one county committee) have the authority to subdivide?” Nelson asked. ”It’s basically a minority of the county board taking a county asset, subdividing it and making that decision without the approval of the full county board.”
It was believed that the full board might get a chance to weigh in on the Woodley sale, and they may be asked to consider the proposed auction sale or the possibility of turning the property into a county park down the road.
As of press time, there have been no new dates or proposed ways to conduct the public hearing on the Stower Trail and the Polk County Board meeting under the new normal of small public crowds.
“All of these things are fluid,” Netherland said of the hearing and the board meeting. “We’ll change as necessary.”

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