County OKs contract with TransCanada Keystone

Marion County Commission approved a contract Monday with TransCanada Keystone Pipeline that included a $2 million performance bond to guarantee return to current condition of any Marion County roads or bridges damaged during construction.

Tommy Darnell, Keystone representative, told County Attorney Susan Robson the company would probably begin construction between May 1 and May 15, and would expect the 52-page contract end at the end of December.

?We would ask for an extension if need be,? he said.

Commission Chairman Randy Dallke asked Robson to clarify the repeated use of the word ?reasonable? in describing what road and bridge repairs in the contract would mean for the county. Dallke said he didn?t want the word to infer a lack of responsibility on Keystone?s part.

Robson said it was a standard contract wording to safeguard Keystone in only having to restore the infrastructure to current level?not having to improve a road or bridge to beyond what it is now.

Commissioner Bob Hein said when it comes to road construction, the $2 million bond ?is really not that much to ask.?

Dallke agreed, but noted that was what the commission asked for, and it shouldn?t be changing figures this late into negotiations.

The commissioners noted that in some counties, the bond had been set at $1 million.

Darnell said, ?I?m here in good faith to tell you we always put roads back in as good a condition as we found them. You can call any county north of here (where the pipeline has been through) to find out that is so, or you can even call counties in the states north of here.?

Darnell said Keystone subcontractors typically work with inspecting engineers and county road and bridge supervisors to immediately address any problems that develop as pipe is set.

For instance, he confirmed that a bridge on 290th will need a steel plate set in concrete to reinforce it.

Given those concerns, and noting, with Robson?s agreement, that Keystone had met terms desired in the contract, Dallke and Hein approved it 2-0. Commissioner Dan Holub, who arrived at the meeting later, was informed of the process, and affirmed he would have voted for it, too.

In a related development, Rep. Bob Brookens, state legislator for Marion County, told the commissioners he will be at a meeting Wednesday in Topeka with other legislators and Keystone to discuss the 10-year state tax exemption granted the pipeline.

Marion County is part of a six-county compact opposing the exemption because of property tax costs and because the counties don?t say benefits to them are sufficient to allow it.

Brookens said he may have discovered a part of why the exemption was allowed because initial plans were for the pipeline to go to Illinois from Canada and then on to Louisi?ana. It wouldn?t have included the current route through the Dakotas and Nebraska to Kansas, and then on to Cushing, Okla., he said.

Kansas representatives may have been trying to ensure that the three refineries in Kansas would keep receiving adequate stocks of oil, he said.

He said the refineries need 300,000 barrels of oil daily to operate, and that Kansas produces only 100,000 barrels daily.

Brookens promised he would keep the commissioners informed about his findings.

Hein noted the disappointment that the two Kansas senators who represent Marion County, Jay Scott Emler of Lindsborg and Jim Barnett of Emporia, have not answered invitations from commissioners to discuss the Keystone exemption.

Hein asked Brookens if Barnett has tried to contact him on the subject, and Brookens answered he hadn?t heard from him.

Holub told Brookens the commissioners also are awaiting an opinion from the Kansas Attorney General?s Office on whether they can use a per parcel real estate assessment from tax rolls to fund a new community corrections center.

He asked Brookens to help in sponsoring legislation on the subject if it is needed, and Brookens said he would.

Other business

On his first day on the job as road and bridge superintendent Monday, Jim Herzet was in to begin catching up on Keystone?s activities. The commissioners appointed him at the job Friday at a monthly salary of $4,000 to succeed Acting Road and Bridge Superintendent John Summerville.

Herzet had been in the position of Acting Road and Bridge Superintendent once before succeeding a former superintendent, Gerald Kelsey.

Summerville is to continue as a road superintendent, but commissioners said it is still to be determined what his salary will be.

The commissioners approved adding two bridges to be rebuilt under the county?s five-year plan with the state?one on 310th east of Eagle and the other on 170th west of Bluestem.

Summerville said it is not as certain the bridges will be built in the next few years as it once was because bridges can cost $250,000 each, and the state is cutting back.

The commissioners approved Gayla Ratzlaff, Department on Aging coordinator , purchasing a laptop computer from Great Plains Computers in Marion for $946, and 10 months worth of portable Internet access for approximately $600, both from encumbered funds.

Ratzlaff said the computer will be used during pharmaceutical and tax counselings with senior citizens throughout the county.

The commissioners discussed employment of Lanell Hett, whom Ratzlaff will share with Rollin Schmidt, noxious weed director. Schmidt will have Hett for part-time secretarial duties, especially for sales of pesticides to farmers.

Schmidt said he will mainly need Hett half-time April through July, and then a half day weekly the rest of the year.

Job sharing is one of the budget cutting devices the commissioners are trying to adapt.

Holub said the commissioners should monitor the situation because they also don?t want senior citizens to be unhappy with the situation.

In a meeting Feb. 16 with County Extension Agricultural Agent Rickey Roberts and five other extension representatives, the commissioners continued to resist any approval of a joint extension district with Dickinson County because it creates another taxing entity.

They did this despite Roberts and his companions coming up with a state-authorized 2.5 mills cap for the district on spending. Any rate above that cap, he said, would have to be authorized by the county commission.

Roberts said the current tax rate for extension from the county budget is 1.2 mills.

He encouraged the commissioners to approve the district while it still has a similar county such as Dickinson willing to partner with it.

Even though extension personnel assured commissioners the district would benefit county residents with sharing specialized agents and programs, the commissioners repeatedly said they failed to see sufficient benefits.

Hein said he even has farmers calling him to discourage creating another taxing entity.

Dallke suggested exploring the idea of an interlocal agreement with Dickinson County as an alternative way to implement a program, but Roberts said the district model already developed has been shown to be better.

Roberts said, ?What I?m hearing is it?s a control issue.?

In response, Holub said, ?Yeah, we don?t want anybody else out there levying taxes.?

Hein suggested going back to discuss the issue with the Dick?inson County Commission.

The commissioners approved staying with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan that could result in an estimated 14 percent rate hike.

The commissioners agreed to write a letter of support to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Middle Creek Watershed on construction of a $1.7 million watershed lake project southeast of Lincolnville sometime in 2011.

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