Public comment on county land, questions and requests

By Kate Klimesh,

At the Sept. 5 Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors meeting Jerrine Osenga, Winneshiek County resident and long-time volunteer with the Decorah Prairie, was at the top of the agenda, presenting information regarding the county-owned property near Iowa Rotocast Plastics facilities requested for consideration of sale at the Aug. 29 Supervisors meeting. IRP was looking to install a major solar array, but did not have adequate land themselves to build that. They had requested a sale of property due to grant requirements as a potential funding source for the project. Osenga noted the property in question was planted with native prairie grasses and plants to be used for seed for the county’s right of way plantings, and had been established as a means of flood control and protection for Freeport residents. She encouraged supervisors to consider the importance of the native prairie field as part of the county’s flood plan, and also reiterated the fact that the property was involved in at least one contract with the DNR through 2032, to promote pollinator habitat.

Winneshiek County resident and former supervisor John Beard followed with questions regarding the Winneshiek County Supervisors’ discussions from the past several meetings of possible road vacations to bring the county-owned roads up to current day maps, and to explore vacation of any unused or non-essential roads based on much earlier maps.

Beard encouraged the supervisors to engage the public in discussions about vacating or selling property owned by the county, and passed along several questions regarding the county costs and expected revenues from road or rights of ways vacation from residents, as well as email responses Beard had sought from resigned county engineer Lee Bjerke and current county attorney Andy Van Der Maaten, who both encouraged a slow, thoughtful approach to county-owned property disposal.

Beard noted that some roads may have some use before considering vacation, and offered that taxpayers and voters backed the development of public spaces years ago by opting into an added tax to fund them. Chair Dan Langreck stated the board was just in the beginning stages of looking at the roads for possible vacations, adding “every property has to be evaluated individually to see if it meets criteria.” He clarified that if the board chose to vacate multiple properties at one time as a cost saving measure, it would only be after thorough consideration of each property meeting criteria.

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