Broadband and bridges topped the agenda of the Nov. 9 meeting of the Aitkin County Board.
Seven townships will benefit from a $4.8 million block grant to expand and improve broadband service. According to Mark Jeffers, economic development coordinator, Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative plans to reach about 300 homes with internet access and the block grant will add 850 more homes. Aitkin County has been awarded $4,823,654 from the state of Minnesota, acting through the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Business and Community Development Division.
Townships that are targeted in the project are ldun, Pliny, Rice River, Seavey, White Pine, Williams and the city of McGrath. The project is required to be completed by April 2024.
According to John Welle, Aitkin County engineer, all bids were rejected earlier this year to replace a bridge in Waukenabo Township. Seven bids were submitted Oct. 18 with Welle recommending accepting the second lowest bid from Marvin Tretter Inc., Pierz, for $292,965 . The lowest bidder withdrew its bid.
“We made it more clear what is required for the project regarding de-watering,” said Welle. “That was the reason we rejected those bids last time around.”
The board accepted this bid as well as one from Redstone Construction LLC, Mora, for $970,990 to replace a bridge on County Road 18 over the Willow River near Palisade. Welle noted both bids were approximately 11% above the bid amount projected because the cost of steel has increased significantly. Some grant funds will also be applied to this Willow River project.
Mark Jeffers, Aitkin County economic development coordinator, introduced Stan Gustafson, new executive director of Growth Innovations.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Gustafson said. “There’s a huge need for housing in many forms. I hope to make it a better county and community. We’ll see what we can get accomplished here.”
“I think your arrival is quite timely,” said board chair, Mark Wedel.
Jeffers asked the board to approve using $10,000 in Fiscal Recovery Funds for business development and tourism in 2022.
“We have $10,000 and plan to add $10,000 over the next five years,” he said.
“This was supported by the Economic Development Committee,” affirmed board member Brian Napstad, after which the board approved the request.
• The board approved legislative priorities for the coming year. They may be found on the Aitkin County website.
• Approved was a 2022-24 contract for $76,949 for an Extension educator for the 4-H program. Auditor Kirk Peysar also asked for funding for a summer 4-H intern. He asked the county for $3,500 with the remainder of $1,500 coming from the Aitkin County 4-H Federation. This was approved after some discussion regarding the need to have someone in the office more than in the past. Peysar said COVID-19 had a deleterious impact on 4-H participation. He said there are currently 41 participants which is up 20% over 2020 but not as high as in previous years. Board member Anne Marcotte said she would like to see the 4-H agent “More
engaged with children.” “We need to see some value to the dollars,” added Napstad.
• County Administrator Jessica Seibert said there is no update yet on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate for COVID-19 vaccines for county employees. She said there are many unknowns at this time but will keep the board updated. The mandate is currently haulted due to an appeal in U.S. District Court.