Fires spur home safety message
Given the terrifying Pagami Creek Fire last fall that threatened to escape the borders of the Boundary Waters, it's likely an easier job this year to convince homeowners in Lake County to be mindful of fire dangers in their own back yard.
Property owners in Fall Lake Township near Ely and other rural areas of the county are being asked to participate in a program that will help protect homes and businesses from wildfires.
As part of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant program, evaluators will provide free Firewise assessments of properties and suggest methods to keep structures safe from wildfires. A U.S. Forest Service grant will assist home and business owners in clearing land around their properties.
Postcards were mailed to every homeowner in Fall Lake just days before another wildfire broke out near Ely last month, Lake County Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt told county board members Tuesday at their regular meeting.
Kohlstedt said she hopes that first wildfire of the year will increase responses from residents.
Lake County has conducted about 1,200 Firewise assessments since 2009, Kohlstedt said, but evaluators are no longer going door-to-door because several people complained that their properties were assessed without permission. As a result, the DNR suggested that the county send out postcards asking for permission.
The Forest Service grant, which is being controlled by the county, is offering up to $1,200 to property owners in the most critical areas to pay for removal of trees and other hazards around structures. The owners are expected to match 20 percent of the cost.
Kohlstedt was met with some criticism from the board over who should do the work around homes.
"Why would anyone agree to use heavy equipment if they can do this cheaper by hand labor?" board member Tom Clifford asked.
Kholstedt said property owners are free to take the $1,200 offer from the Forest Service and clear their own properties, but said that it's not the ideal method because of the time it would take to do it by hand.
Board member Rick Goutermont conceded that although it may not be his preferred method, there isn't much the board can do about it.
"The cheapest way would be if they just had a program and hired people to go out to these properties and had them travel around and just keep doing it," he said. "But the federal government could never possibly pull that off, and if they did come to that, they would just ask us to do it."
Commissioners also discussed lease options for a future cell tower in Wales.
The tower, which has been approved by the planning commission, will sit on approximately 10 acres of land owned by Lake County along Wales Road. Any revenue collected from a lease agreement will be put in the general revenue fund.
The developer has proposed a one-time payment of $45,000 for a 45-year lease, but not all of the commissioners are on board with the plan.
"The $45,000 - we will spend it tomorrow and it'll be gone," Goutermont said. "I want continued revenue."
Clifford said the plan could work if the county manages the money wisely.
"If you invested that $45,000, normally - and things aren't normal right now - but even at 5 percent, you'd double that money every 10 years," he said.
The other option would be to charge a monthly fee, probably in the range of $300 to $500 per month, which County Administrator Matt Huddleston estimated could generate more than $300,000 in revenue with partial investment.