The Fremont County Board of Supervisors argued at their June 24 meeting about implementing a buyout relocation benefit that would reward people who stayed in Fremont County if they had to relocate after the flood buyout.
The benefit is part of a CDBG grant applied for by Southwest Iowa Planning Council (SWIPCO), and would provide up to $31,000 extra incentive on top of their FEMA buyout funds for people who remained within the county when relocating.
Deputy Fremont County Attorney Tyler Loontjer told the supervisors Mills County is participating in the program and explained it is a benefit of up to $31,000, with the amount being figured by the difference between the resident’s buyout amount and the cost of their new residence.
Supervisors Randy Hickey and Dustin Sheldon were enthusiastic about the benefit that could encourage residents to stay, but Supervisor Terry Graham voiced opposition, indicating he found it “offensive” and “limiting to people who had already suffered greatly.”
Graham didn’t think the county should impose any restrictions on the flooded out residents’ funding. Loontjer and the other supervisors repeated this was not their buyout benefit, it was an additional benefit the county was willing to offer to keep people in the county.
Graham pointed out cities like Hamburg could put the same restriction on the benefit, saying people from Hamburg had to relocate in Hamburg. He noted if someone who was flooded out in Mills County wanted to move to Fremont County they couldn’t. Loontjer reminded Graham that people could move anywhere they wanted to, but if they wanted to stay in Fremont County, they could get extra money to do so.
For example: A resident who loses a $160,000 house in Fremont County and finds a $170,000 house in Page County, would get buyout money or insurance money, but no extra benefit from the county. If he decided to buy a $170,000 house within Fremont County, he would get buyout or insurance money and be eligible for an extra $10,000 from this buyout relocation benefit to help pay for the cost of the new house.
Despite this explanation, Graham remained in opposition.
“I’d tell you to go hang if you tried to tell me I had to stay to get that money,” he said. “The last thing I need is the government telling me how to spend my money.”
Hickey and Sheldon both reiterated they didn’t have to stay in the county, and it wasn’t money they were supposed to get otherwise; it was an incentive to encourage them to consider staying in Fremont County.
“If we get even a few of these people to stay by offering this extra money it is worth it,” Hickey said.
The supervisors approved offering the incentive 2 to 1, with Graham opposing.
While on the subject of flood buyouts, Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Crecelius told the board a resident wanted his house removed from the buyout program. Loontjer told the supervisors the county needs to get buyout information and an opt-out form out to people soon, and said the county would likely see a few more opt out before all was said and done. The supervisors approved the resident’s opt-out request.
Fremont County Engineer Dan Davis told the supervisors the Army Corps of Engineers ran out of money for 408 permits, and would issue no more until Oct. 1. These permits allow contractors to work on Corps projects and associated lands. Davis said any such work will be done in the order submitted after that date.
Area resident Courtney Athen attended the meeting and expressed concern about grass being piled up on his driveway by county graders. Athen said he mows the road ditches every year to keep weeds and trees down, and inevitably some of the grass ends up on the road. Then the county’s road department comes along with a road grader and piles up the grass on his driveway.
Athen said he had called and asked the road department if he was doing something wrong and was told he was not and they appreciated what he was doing. Athen said it had been going on for 15 years, though, and was an issue every year.
Davis told his graders not to grade the ditch waste into Athen’s driveway. The supervisors discussed whether it would help to mow ditches more often, or whether the county could communicate with landowners about when they would be windrowing the roads. Davis indicated the grass could be shoved right back into the ditch, but Sheldon suggested it would take a lot of rock with it.
The supervisors advised Athen they would make sure the ditch waste didn’t get graded into Athen’s driveway in future.
The supervisors spoke to Fremont County Veterans Affairs Director Ben Roberts about a purchase he made for the Veterans Affairs office. The purchase totaled $2,668 and was obtained from a family member of Roberts. Hickey indicated the supervisors had approved payment, but warned Roberts would be considered a conflict of interest because it was his relative and should not happen again.
“Even if it saves the county money?” Roberts asked. The supervisors told him it didn’t matter, it would still be a conflict and the county would get nailed for it.
A public hearing was held regarding nuisance abatement at a residence in Farragut. Deputy County Engineer Robbie Kromminga said the noted property has a large number of vehicles on it, and the county had asked the owner to move or do something with them. Property Owner Karen Garner was present to ask for an extension of a year to build a building the vehicles could be moved into.
When the supervisors indicated they weren’t likely to allow a year extension without knowing there would be improvement, Garner indicated she had already started working on the project. She said the land had been leveled for the building. When the supervisors considered a six-month extension to put up a building, Loontjer suggested an option would be to give Garner 60 days, then assess her progress at that time for any other extensions.
The supervisors asked Kromminga to take some before and after pictures and Garner to report to them on progress. The supervisors would expect to see significant progress by the Aug. 26 deadline in order to grant a further deadline extension.
A public hearing was held regarding the final reading of the wind turbine ordinance, with some residents and Invenergy representatives present.
Resident Maureen Collins questioned what happened to the turbines at the end of their 30-year life span. Graham explained there is a decommissioning process detailed in the contract that is part of the company’s responsibility. Mike Blazer of Invenergy indicated that process is usually a provision in any easements with the landowner and the arrangements with the county, too.
Collins questioned what happens to the torn down turbine, wondering if the parts ended up in the local landfill. Gabe Klooster of Invenergy said the company had begun working with a company that helps recycle blades, which are a common concern, for use mixed in with concrete among other solutions.
Collins also asked if the planned turbines would be end up near the Missouri River or the Loess Hills, as this was a migratory bird path. The supervisors and Loontjer indicated the setbacks would prevent turbine development in the path, and this was a large scale wind farm plan, with the turbines grouped on the eastern side of the county.
The supervisors approved the final reading of the ordinance unanimously. Blazer thanked the supervisors for working with Invenergy, and said, “There aren’t a lot of counties with companies lining up to build multi-million dollar projects. This is a generational benefit for the residents.”
In other business, the supervisors approved:
•payment to HGM Associates of a $3,609.13 voucher for engineering/surveying services for roads J-34 and L-31;
•payment to HGM Associates of a $2,202.17 voucher for engineering services for emergency repair construction services on J-64;
•payment to HGM Associates of a $3,570.54 voucher for engineering services for J-24 emergency repairs from I-29 northbound on/off ramps to the west corporate limits of Thurman;
•payment to HGM Associates of a $5,632.69 voucher for engineering services for road J-10 design, including the final crossing design;
•appropriation of county office and department budgets for fiscal year 2020-21 as approved in March;
•canceling outstanding warrants as they do at the end of every fiscal year;
•appointing Rebecca Castle to the Fremont County Conservation Board, unanimously, and
•waiving green fees for the Fremont County Golf Course fundraiser tournament to be held July 5.