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Osakis Voices: Sediment ponds trigger lots of questions

The Todd County Finance Committee recommended to the full County Board a 4.13 percent preliminary levy increase for 2018. This is required by the state for counties to set the preliminary levy by Sept. 30 of each year. Counties are not allowed to increase this number once it is set but are allowed to lower it.

The 2017 approved levy was $15,001,965 and the proposed 2018 levy is $15,621,292. The County Board passed the resolution on September 19. We have also been negotiating with the county's six unions that includes two AFSCME unions, one LELS union and three teamsters unions. The county is looking for a three-year contract through 2020. We are close on settling but still have some negotiating to do.

The insurance committee has also been working on getting new bids on health insurance. The county had not bid out its insurance for over seven years. Bids came back with a 22 percent savings for 2018; they capped 2019 at 9 percent and 2020 at 12 percent, which is great a result for Todd County taxpayers.

Last month, I said I would talk a little more about the Sauk River Watershed. I was appointed by my board to attend these meetings and report back to them on what actions they take that can and will affect the taxpayers of Todd County. The Sauk River Watershed area is in two commissioner districts in Todd County, Districts 4 and 5. What I have found while attending these meetings is that the general public has no idea what the watershed is doing. They were not posting meetings or minutes. You could say pretty much there was no transparency. The president of the managers from Stearns County is not willing to get you answers to any of your questions.

So let us talk about the sediment pond expansion, which is located north of Lake Osakis on Douglas/Todd County Joint Ditch 2. I also sit on the JD2 ditch board, which I do not believe has been informed of the watershed's intentions. I will inform them on Oct. 10 at the ditch meeting held at the Douglas County Public Works building. A couple of managers called me a troublemaker because I was asking questions, such as: How much money is owed on the existing sediment ponds? With the dam in JD2/Sauk River, does that make Lake Osakis a big settling pond? The alum treatment killed a lot of fish on Faille Lake by the golf course, so why would you want to do that on the sediment pond? The dirt now becomes toxic so what do you do with it and what is the cost? What do your employees get paid per hour per month? These nine managers need to do a little homework.

When the existing sediment pond was put in, the lawyer for the Sauk River Watershed was also the same lawyer for the Douglas/Todd Joint Ditch Board. The JD2 board felt this was a conflict of interest and have hired a different attorney. At the last meeting in September, I believe expansion has gone from $1.3 million to $1.8 million. They have hired an engineering firm at $185 per hour and this is the same firm that did the alum treatment in Faille Lake that killed many fish. They will come up with a plan for the expansion and a cost estimate. Remember, the first pond was to cost $500,000 and ended up at $875,000 with a clean-out cost of over $50,000 every three years or so. They figure the new expansion clean-out cost would be $150,000 or more.

Now I believe in clean water, I have lived by Lake Osakis all my life. I have watched the Sauk River Watershed spend over $2 million on Lake Osakis. You have to ask yourself, is the lake cleaner today than it was 20 years ago? Grants are drying up so the Sauk River Watershed will be asking taxpayers in the Lake Osakis area of Douglas and Todd County to foot the bill!