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By Sandy Schroth
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Antelope County district court clerk to retire

 

April 23, 2020

Sandy Schroth

Double take • Conflicting traffic signs are seen at a railroad crossing one mile west of the Highways 14/20 junction. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is now responsible for all signage within its right of way. A resolution was adopted by the Antelope County commissioners last week, allowing the road department to remove their signs.

June 30 retirement of longtime Antelope County clerk of the district court, Judy Cole was announced during the April 14 meeting of the Antelope County Commissioners.

The meeting was held via video conference, with commissioner Eli Jacob and chairman Charlie Henery present in the meeting room, along with clerk Lisa Payne. Commissioners Dean Smith, Regina Krebs and Carolyn Pedersen participated remotely via Zoom. Sheriff Bob Moore, county attorney Joe Abler, zoning administrator Liz Doerr and road department officials Casey Dittrich and Aaron Boggs were also present in person at various times.

As he called the meeting to order, Henery announced the doors to the courthouse were open, with the 10-person rule in force, and public comment could be made through the Zoom chat feature and would be reviewed at a later time.

Payne said the procedure for filling the balance of Cole's term of office will include the commissioners accepting applications, interviewing, and appointing. Cole's term runs until January 2023.

Road-related issues and business consumed the bulk of the four-hour meeting, after commissioners adopted a pandemic disaster declaration and approved monthly payroll and vendor claims including an invoice for a refrigerated trailer purchased by Moore to serve as a makeshift morgue if it should become necessary.

Doerr informed the commissioners about recent wind tower icing reports.

"Everybody (who) reported it did a very good job giving the exact towers that they (had) seen where the icing was going on, which when I call it in, that's what Invenergy is looking for. They check those towers first, then shut them down," she said.

She also discussed an issue that had come up after the first of the year.

"Regina (Krebs) had talked to me about that because they're participating and they have some farm ground that is near a tower, but they don't have a tower on their land," she said. "It's kind of a different scenario, but this is where they calve, so it's only for this short period of time."

She said Invenergy is working with Krebs, although it is not required by the company's conditional use permit, providing a form for requesting temporary tower shutdown.

Area farmer Art Tanderup addressed the board, urging commissioners to delay entering any agreements with TC Energy.

"There are several very significant challenges here to this pipeline and it will probably end up in the Supreme Court," he said.

He alleged several Antelope County landowners have not yet had due process, "one of the fundamental rights given to us by our Constitution."

He also said 17 county landowners have opted to take eminent domain cases to district court. He further cited three active federal cases, as well as federal and state permits that still need to be accomplished.

"This pipeline is not a done deal. And I think it's not really a good idea to go ahead with the agreements or anything at this time with them. No need to waste your time because this may or may not happen. There's a lot of legal action out there that's going to happen and any of it could significantly delay or put an end to this, as well as the economic nature of the industry."

Tanderup had submitted a letter to the officials that included his entire presentation. As public record, copies are available from the county clerk.

A resolution, presented by Boggs, was approved unanimously, authorizing the road department to removed traffic signs from the right of way of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

Boggs said, as of Jan. 31, signage on railroad ROW is under rail company jurisdiction. Currently many of the 25 to 30 crossings have conflicting signs, with yield and stop signs sitting side by side.

The county is still responsible for railroad signage beyond the right of way, including advance warning of train tracks.

The second resolution presented by Boggs, authorizing a new oversize haul permit, was tabled. Some commissioners had concerns with verbiage in the resolution not matching that on permit application and asked for clarification for permit fees, inclusion of engineering fees and penalties for road damage that may be incurred.

Boggs was given an unofficial nod to proceed with leasing two tractors to pull drags, as well as to hire seasonal workers, including an oil crew.

"I would like to put together another asphalt crew like you've had in the past, four or five guys overseen by someone familiar with it," he said.

Boggs informed the commissioners he had put a seven-ton weight restriction of 848 Road, between Highway 14 and 519 Avenue (Sargent Irrigation Road) on April 9. The segment of road is under a Thunderhead road-use agreement, but the highway superintendent said the restriction was needed for public safety and he had Abler's blessing.

Abler discussed problems with a road just south of Orchard that sustained substantial damage as a result of area residents taking matters into their own hands.

The attorney said he was asked by Henery and Boggs last month to look into statutes and the possibility of prosecuting individuals who caused damage to county roadways.

"What it boils down to is there is a statute that criminalizes plowing up the road, classified misdemeanor. However...basically the statute also says its permissive if permission is given by the road overseer or the officer in charge of that road. When I was speaking to commissioner Jacob, it sounds like Mr. Hurtig had contacted him or called and said, 'hey I'm going to do up the road,' and Eli (Jacob) told him, 'that's fine with me but you've got to call Casey (Dittrich) or Aaron (Boggs).'"

"I just don't want the public to think its permissible - ever," Boggs added.

Abler suggested publishing notice of the statute, similar to ditch-mowing and noxious weed notices, saying, "we are working on the roads, be patient with us, but please do not do it yourself. By doing so, you are violating these statutes. If you have a problem with your roads, call the commissioner, call Boggs at the road department."

Boggs requested notice be published separately from other notices this spring, then twice annually in the future.

He said the road had been scheduled for work the week following the incident. The road department had 14 manhours in damage repairs, as of April 14, and had hauled in two loads of aggregate at an estimated cost of $1,200 each, with more needed.

"We are going to be somewhere around $5,000 to fix that road, one-half mile, when it could have been done for no cost – hardly – with maintenance," Boggs said. "Hindsight is 20/20 but, by the time I got in contact with Roe, he was already done."

Abler concluded, "I want people to realize that you can be held liable to the county for the damages."

Smith opined, "It's a wake-up call to us that we've got to get on top of these roads."

Although no motion or vote was requested, the commissioners indicated agreement with publication of notices.

The road superintendent and part-time foreman Dittrich had completed a survey of the county's 150 miles of oil roads, dividing them into four categories and mapping them.

Sixty-five miles, mapped green, were deemed good or great and do not need much work, if any. Thirty miles, marked yellow, were found to be in fair shape, with some spots in "pretty good" shape. They can be patched by county crews, using the AMZ patching machine.

The remaining oil roads, approximately 55 miles, are in need of more extensive repair. How to accomplish that turned into a lengthy discussion with differing opinions, especially as related to cost and budget constraints.

Roads designated as orange on the map are suggested for hot-mix asphalt patch.

Those designated as in dire shape, marked red on the map, will require full-depth reclamation, and need to be addressed immediately, according to Boggs. The first step would be to grind the asphalt, then either let it lay, re-stabilize with product or reclaim it and turn the road back to gravel. He suggested all those roads be ground and re-laid for a future hot-mix overlay. He reminded the leaders that if some work isn't accomplished, a lot of yellow can turn to orange and orange can turn to red in a month or two.

Regarding the budget, Dittrich said, "We are pretty close overall; Lisa just told me we got our highway buyback funds. We have the budget, we have the cash flow, we have the time."

Payne had reported receipts of $151,853.61 from the state street buyback program and $112,345.97 from the highway bridge buyback program, for a total of $264,209.58.

However, more number crunching changed Dittrich's tune a little, and he later indicated budget consumption after the March claims and payroll was higher than he anticipated, with three months expense left in the fiscal year.

The leaders continued to mull budget issues, including current market conditions for farmers and a question if the current pandemic would jeopardize receipt of expected FEMA funds, and urgent road needs, finally agreeing to table a decision until the first meeting in May, at the request of Pedersen.

"Being new on the board, I don't understand all of this as far as the roads...Is it something we can set up and I can come in and meet with Aaron, and the other commissioners, on their own, and look at this and what the cost is and say we can do maybe this and make that decision in May?" she asked. "You guys are talking of things that I have no clue. I can't make a decision because I don't understand the part you are talking about."

"I would like full direction from the board as to what we are doing for... everything that's in orange and red," Boggs said. "Everything that's in blue and yellow I can handle that, that's not a problem. I think that would be alright, we could meet one-on-one with each of you. I don't see why that wouldn't work."

In the meantime, one mile of 849 Road east of Neligh, "Escritt's hill," will be ground and laid in place until decisions are made. According to Boggs, it is the worst oil road in the county. In addition, two miles of 851 Road, west of Clearwater, will be "fixed constantly" with gravel, millings and Sinclair dirt.

Dittrich informed the leaders a contract had been signed the previous day, to acquire a 2.541 easement from Ron and Jeanne Crumly north of Royal to build a new road, as an alternate FEMA project, replacing two bridges that were destroyed during last year's flood.

The purchase price is $1,813 .69 per acre, with a total, including fencing, of $9,760.29, which will be turned into FEMA as an alternate project, according to Dittrich.

After conferring with Abler, the commissioners unofficially agreed to add the item to the agenda as an emergency item, so Henery could sign the documents and arrangements for work could proceed. Henery called for a motion to have the chairman sign documents. Smith so moved, with a second by Jacob. The motion carried unanimously.

Dittrich approached the leaders with permit applications he and Boggs had reviewed for TC Energy, recommending approval of 56 access permits and denial of 20. He said the 20 denied applications were for locations that did not have enough site distance. In addition, 37 underground permit applications were recommended for approval. However, the road department heads had found eight crossings of county rights of way that had not been included in the permit applications submitted, leaving seven miles of pipeline without permitted access.

"They either have to gain more access to private ground to move their driveways or about their only option, bring it in with a helicopter. I don't know, that's their problem," he said.

Smith added his take on granting permits, "I believe everybody just heard Art's (Tanderup) comments about what's going on with the pipeline, concerns that I have raised directly to the pipeline representatives... How in the world can we go forward with this when...they didn't even hold up their end with something as simple as applications?"

Henery replied, "They will, eventually."

Smith made a motion to put all the applications on hold until requirements were addressed. It died for lack of a second.

Henery then asked for a motion to approve the 56 access permit applications. Jacob so moved, with Pedersen providing the second. The motion carried, 3-2, with Krebs and Smith voting no. The 20 denials were confirmed on a 5-0 vote.

Moving on to the underground permit applications, Smith asked if the road superintendent would be on site for each, to confirm depth of boring is five feet beneath the flowline. He was told the county does not have the equipment.

Henery argued it would be the same as when an irrigation line is pushed under a road.

"You want to compare the tar sands pipeline to an irrigation waterline?" Smith asked.

"I want to be equal with everybody (who's) applying for a permit," Henery replied, before asking Smith if he favored the county purchasing tools to find depth.

"I think we should, for the protection of the residents of the county and our aquifer, that this gets done correctly," Smith replied.

He moved to deny all underground pipe permits. The motion again died for lack of a second. Krebs then moved to table a decision on the underground permits. Smith seconded. The motion carried, 5-0.

The board decided that two meetings are needed in May, due to the number of road department decisions that were put off. A motion carried to change the second meeting to Monday, May 11, rather than Tuesday, due to the Primary Election scheduled May 12.

In other business, the commissioners:

~Approved three improvement grant requests on the recommendation of the Antelope County Visitors' Committee, including $1,500 grants to each of the following: Neligh Young Men's Club toward an estimated cost of $10,000 for a wireless fireworks shooting system; Antelope County Ag Society toward a $4,800 project to construct a fence from north of the grandstand to the entrance of the ballfield driveway; and Orchard Historical Society for upgrades to it's facility;

~Approved a $300 promotional grant recommended by the visitor committee for the Elgin Community Club's Vetch Days celebration;

~Appointed Lynae Stelling of Orchard to the Antelope County Visitors' Committee;

~Held public hearing and approved new liquor license for Antelope County Club (license had expired);

~Approved two administrative plat applications as recommended by Doerr: Allen Rutgens (Pentagon Investments) 4.83-acre tract in Burnett Township, north of Tilden; and Weston Frahm, west of Plainview in Crawford Township on south side of Highway 20, east of Brunswick;

~Heard from Boggs that Prouty Construction was grinding the asphalt pile in Clearwater, with plans to move to the piles of asphalt and concrete at Oakdale;

~Approved renewal of NACO's vision plan through National Insurance Services, with no change in premiums;

~Approved the rehire of a former road and bridge employee, Elijah Pellatz, on permanent status;

~Approved two access to grade permits for Summerland School, on a temporary basis;

~Approved an access permit filed by Matt Meuret, on 856 Road in Bazile Township; and

~Approved underground permits for Boyd's Electric under 529 Avenue southeast of Brunswick in Crawford Township; Terry Anson/Steve Stelling on 861 Road, south of Orchard in Garfield Township and Josh Schindler on 516 Avenue in Stanton Township, northwest of Elgin.

 

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