By Ben Karkela

Herald-Review

 

The Itasca County Board of Commissioners has approved use of $820,870 of Corona Relief Funds allocated to local businesses and nonprofits. 

County Administrator Brett Skyles and Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) President and CEO Tamara Lowney provided an update regarding the status of the fund during a work session of the county board on Tuesday, March 2. The Minnesota Legislature provided few guidelines and funds were distributed to businesses affected most by executive order shutdowns. 

The IEDC reached out to eligible businesses and encouraged them to apply. The relief funds will be awarded by March 15. 

Lowney said the businesses who applied for relief were evaluated and divided into three tiers. 

Each tier consisted of profit and non-profit businesses. Timberlake Lodge was pulled from applications because it didn’t meet criteria to apply for a convention center grant. Parameters of the criteria were too high for the Timberlake Lodge to meet.  

Lowney requested a separate $60,000 fund be granted to Timberlake since it was ineligible for other relief, despite being greatly impacted by executive order shutdowns. 

Commissioners motioned to approve the use of Coronavirus Relief Funds in the amount of $60,000 to be granted to Timberlake Lodge. 

An excess $11,235.45 was approved to be divided equally among the 15 Tier A businesses, both for-profit and non-profit. 

Commissioner Terry Snyder asked if there are other businesses or groups that haven’t been addressed. Lowney stated that property owners are a group that hasn’t been addressed since an executive order suspended evictions. 

“If we continue to push this eviction notice back out, it’s only going to put more pressure on these property owners,” Lowney said. 

There are many other service providers that have not been eligible for relief funding but are still greatly affected by executive shutdowns.  Lowney said they plan to identify businesses that fall into a gray area and they will be strongly considered during a third round of relief funding. 

DNR Land Acquisition Request

The board denied a request by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to purchase approximately 62 acres of private land on Deer Lake. The DNR planned on using the land to expand the Wabu Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). 

Commissioner Ben DeNucci motioned to deny the request.

“I think we have an abundance of public land already,” DeNucci said. “Should more land come off the private tax rolls and go into a public situation? I look at the current state of the county and I believe it should not.”

Board Chair Burl Ives stated his concern was that neighboring properties would be affected by state regulations concerning SNAs. During last week’s meeting, the board requested a written waiver that would ensure neighboring properties would not be affected by future state legislation. The DNR did not provide anything in writing during Tuesday’s work session.

“I think of the landowners next door and I have concerns about the use of their land,” Ives said. “I don’t want to see us have a problem 5-10 years from now.”

Commissioner Leo Trunt opposed the motion. 

“Deer Lake is very well-developed and there are cases to be made to preserve or protect areas beyond the initial tier of homes along the lake,” Trunt said.

The motion was approved 3-2.

Highway construction plan

Itasca County Engineer Karin Grandia presented the draft five-year plan for highway construction. This year, Itasca County has $5.3 million for construction and $3.6 million for maintenance in 2021. A total of $690,000 is allocated for municipal construction while $460,000 goes towards municipal maintenance. 

Grandia said the Transportation Department is generally underfunded but has gotten good bid prices for construction and maintenance recently. She highlighted several projects the department has planned this year and proposed paving a section of road on Highway 65 to the new county garage near Swan River. 

Grandia stated the paved road makes good business sense due to increased traffic to the garage and to help prevent dust from infiltrating neighboring homes.

The draft plan is available on the Transportation Department’s portion of the county’s website for public review and comment until March 23, 2021. 

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