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County board and SWCD seeking counsel in wetland dispute

By Anna Jauhola
Kittson Soil and Water Conservation District is seeking its own legal counsel after a conflict from the county attorney arose regarding an appeals process.
Jeremy Benson, district technician, presented a letter to the Kittson County Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 1 for their approval to inform County Attorney Bob Albrecht of their plan to seek other counsel. Over the last several years, the SWCD along with the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have been in a court battle with Glen Brazier regarding wetland violations at Wagon Wheel Ridge by Karlstad, Benson said. The location best known for hosting Kickn’ Up Kountry is set on designated wetlands where the entity built a mini theme park called Adventure World.
“He will be in violation (after today) of their Wetland Conservation Act restoration order that was issued back in 2019,” Benson said. “Since then, we’ve been through an appeals process and he sued us, BWSR and the DNR. During that process, the district courts sided with us on this case. He appealed that. The court of appeals reaffirmed the district court’s decision that he had no case. That’s what I talked to you guys about last week at your workshop. Since then, he has now petitioned that same case to the state supreme court.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court takes only 10 to 12 percent of the cases submitted, so there’s a chance this case will not be heard, Benson said.
As of midnight on Tuesday, Aug. 1, Brazier was still in violation of the restoration order, according to the SWCD office in Hallock, and had not submitted a replacement or restoration plan.
“We have given him every opportunity through the legal battles and appeals processes to come into compliance,” Benson said last week.
The SWCD board met on Wednesday, June 14 and heard from County Attorney Bob Albrecht that he has a business conflict of interest regarding the case and cannot take it on.
“In talking with our lawyers, the BWSR legal team and with you guys last week – we’re seeking other legal representation. It is in our best interests as a county.”
The commissioners approved the letter to Albrecht, which states statute and law regarding the conflict of interest, and is signed by Commission Chair Loren Younggren. It also specifically states, “We understand that you have a conflict of interest in the matter, but as a local government unit we have an obligation in seeing this case through to make sure that residents of Kittson County are all held to the same standard when it comes to enforcing environmental laws and regulations we administer.”
Outgoing Administrator Brian Buhmann said the commission has discussed possibly retaining Attorney John Kolb from Rinke Noonan, who specializes in water law. This was not a decision made at the meeting.
The board approved sending the letter. In a separate motion, they approved seeking representation regarding the issue, should it be necessary.
In other business, the board:
• Amended the July 11 minutes to include hiring Trish Harren as the interim administrator. This detail was omitted from the minutes originally.
• Heard an update from Paul Hajduk from Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, specifically regarding Kittson County’s investment in the firm.
• Approved life insurance bids, which were unchanged from last year.
• Approved a resolution removing Buhmann from the county’s bank and investment accounts as his last day as administrator was Aug. 2.
• Approved paying an annual stipend for the DAV Van, which transports veterans to medical appointments at no cost. That stipend is $1,470, which amounts to $3.50 per veteran in the county.
• Rescinded board approval of the sale of a Buick Park Avenue. This vehicle was purchased on sealed bid from a tax forfeited property, but the buyer backed out. The board agreed to contact the next highest bidder and offer it to them, and if they don’t buy it, the board will put it up for sealed bids again.
• Approved amended fees for the Tyler electronic payment system that will soon be going live on the Kittson County website – Payer card cost is 2.95 percent per transaction with a $1.45 minimum. Payer eCheck cost is $1 per transaction. If an eCheck is rejected, there is a cost of $5. If a card payer disputes a transaction, there is a chargeback cost of $15.
• The board thanked Buhmann for his time and effort during his tenure as county administrator and wished him well as he moved on to his next position.
The next meeting is set for Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 9 a.m.

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