Commission gets into road discussions

The Marion County Commission heard from Brice Goebel, the new county engineer for the road and bridge department at its meeting June 10.

Goebel said it’s been long hours, but said many people who have had road concerns were happy he called them back. Regarding the roads, Goebel said he had a staff meeting with his personnel and talked about some of the issues to include the damage caused by recent flooding.

“We are trying to get roads open,” he said.

In addition, he said, his department is more “reactionary” and that’s something they want to get past. “We have bridges that are washed out, and rather than coating over them, we need to make them a little higher.”

Another step Goebel said he plans on taking once his office gets past the emergency declaration from the damaged roads, is to start blade patching.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said when he was traveling around the county, he said the “golden wheat is golden,” referring to harvest starting up soon. He wanted Goebel to make sure some of the roads currently not open are open before it starts.

“In a couple of weeks,” Goebel said, “we will be there. We have some deep ruts, but the blade men are our eyes, ears and mouth of Marion County.”

One important step, he added, is for people to call in when they are seeing problems with roads. He said he and Jesse Hamm, road and bridge supervisor, saw that some of the north roads haven’t even been worked on yet.

The commissioners also talked about job descriptions, but Goebel asked that Hamm’s position remain the same.

“The issue is to get people to every part of this county, and Hamm may go to areas where blade men aren’t,” he said.

Hamm can make sure that road crews are getting to places that need to be covered, Goebel said, and he knows the roads because he has driven them a lot.

However, he said that if that’s not working, then he would split the job into north and south roads. Regardless, Goebel said the “buck stops with him.”

Commissioner Dianne Novak looked at the job descriptions for road positions, but after hearing how Goebel would like things to remain, she said she was OK with what he wants to do.

“You are the man in charge,” she said.

Commission chairman Kent Becker also agreed.

Goebel said he would like to give his ideas a chance to work, and if the commission isn’t hearing there are improvements, then changes can be looked at some time in the near future.

In other business, the commission:

,◼ heard from Chuck Seifert, who farms east of Aulne, requesting the wind farm issue be brought to a vote by the people. “It would relieve a lot of pressure,” he said. “Let all the people (in the county) have a voice in it.” Novak agreed, saying she, too, thought it would be a good idea. Seifert said the Tampa-area wind farm wasn’t the subject of so much controversy as is the situation with the Florence-area project. Dallke said he agreed the two projects weren’t the same.

◼ approved a chemical bid for dicamba, which kills annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Bud Druse, director of the transfer station, noxious weeds, recycling and household hazardous waste, presented two bids for 180 gallons from Nutrien, Loveland, Colo., at $32.94 a gallon or $5,929, and another from Van Diest, Abilene, at $33.94 a gallon, totaling $6,109. The commissioners approved the bid from Nutrien.

◼ learned that about 60 acres of bull thistle are prevalent on one specific landowner’s property, Druse said. He is concerned that unless something is done, this biennial forb (takes place every two years) will spread to neighboring areas. Most of the bull thistle, Druse said, is in wooded areas. While most of the area can be sprayed to kill this forb, Druse said, he would still need to follow procedure by sending a letter, then second letter warning court action. But, after the first letter, the landowner could give his permission to have the county spray it.

◼ thanked Elizabeth Schmidt for her 12 years of service as the executive director of the Harvey-Marion County Community Developmental Disability Organization. In addition to learning of Schmidt’s leaving, she, Jared Jost, chairperson, and Diedre Serene, board member, requested $65,000 for funding in 2020. Other revenue streams for the organization, Schmidt said, include Harvey County at $102,500 and state aid at $151,416. 

◼ was given a quarterly report from the new county attorney, Joel Ensey, who replaced Courtney Boehm after she accepted the position of district judge for the 8th Judicial District, which includes the counties of Dickinson, Geary, Marion, and Morris. One change in his office, Ensey said, will be in how methamphetamine (a highly addictive stimulant) cases are handled and whether the person is a user or a distributor. “One causes more of a problem than the other,” he said. Becker asked Ensey what percentage of cases go to trial. Ensey said the combination of bench trials with jury trials is about 95 percent. Dallke said he’s been asked about why people will plead out rather than be taken to trial. Ensey explained that sometimes it’s about how much evidence they have, but plea negotiations usually end up when neither the defense attorney or prosecutor is happy. Regarding evidence, he said, it’s not necessarily because of law enforcement, it’s just that maybe the evidence won’t be beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

◼ heard a request from the Families and Communities Together, also known as FACT, for $6,000 to be allocated in the 2020 budget to continue their efforts. In addition, Ashley Gann, with FACT, introduced the group’s executive director, Terry Bebermeyer, who was a teacher for 40 years will be instrumental in writing grants, along with other duties. The commissioners also spoke about the Special Alcohol Tax fund and, Gann said that for many years the Marion County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, SAPC, has received this special fund money. FACT, she said, doesn’t get any of the special fund, adding that it all goes to the coalition to manage. The money is used for after-prom events, prevention programs and other areas. The commissioners said they would speak with the county counselor, Brad Jantz, regarding what is legal with respect to the special alcohol tax. Gann said she hoped the coalition would still be able to manage all or at least a portion of this fund. Both the commissioners, Gann and Bebermeyer agreed there is a huge drug problem in Marion County, and that prevention and treatment played vital roles.

◼ spoke with Dave Mueller, Enel Green Power-Diamond Vista Road Maintenance Agreement. Mueller, also introduced Blake De la Fuente and Reno Podorieszach, site manager, to talk about the road agreement. De la Fuente said his group has done about 45 miles of road improvements, which would total about $6 million. “This was just on the county roads,” he said, “but we have also done another 26 miles on access roads.” He said a subcontractor will be upgrading an additional seven miles and will fix damaged culverts. The site manager, Podorieszach, said he is aware of some people being disappointed in the progress, but more manpower is arriving. Up until now there have been 34 people on site, but that number will reach about 60 in the near future. Regarding machinery, Podorieszach said, the number of bulldozers, motor graders, smooth drum compactors, skid steers, track hoes, backhoes, rock trucks, front end loaders, water trucks, straw blowers and tractor with disc with double. One concern addressed by Novak was about the metal track equipment, and how by state statute it is illegal to use on roads. Mueller said he interpreted that to mean on roads other than rock, but she disagreed. The commission decided to allow the metal tracked equipment be used for one week while the county counselor can research the issue.

◼ approved giving the city of Ramona $1,000 for its Independence Day Celebration on July 6. Rohani Alcorn and George Thiel, two of the event organizers, came before the commission requesting $1,500. The commissioners also decided to come up with a plan, but for the first year, they would allocate $1,000 per community for any and all events, subject to change and money availability in the transient guest tax fund.