Chuck Grotte is the new county highway engineer for Otter Tail County. He replaces Rick West who has assumed a new position as county public works director. Grotte, who was an assistant for West, heads operations of the county highway department. Otter Tail County is larger in size than the state of Rhode Island and paved roads total 1,062 miles. The 2018 roadway budget is $37.6 million. Toward this end, $18 million comes from the state of Minnesota through grants and $1.3 million from the federal government through grants.
County Commissioner Doug Huebsch of Perham reported that new equipment has been installed at the Perham Resource Recovery Facility and is working very well with disposing of more garbage and increasing steam sales. He said further testing will be performed the end of May. Discussion took place among county board members regarding options for recycling of demolition materials. County Administrator John Dinsmore will facilitate a meeting with the Otter Tail County Public Works Committee and refuse burner officials.
County board members met with CCG Consulting, Finley Engineering and local vendors to discuss a broadband feasibility study. CCG President Doug Dawson and Finley Project Engineer Chris Konechne reported that, within the next four to five years, local vendors will have provided about 75 percent of Otter Tail County land mass with fiber to the curb.
Reaching for a cell phone was a bad decision which almost resulted in loss of life for a driver south of Deer Creek in Inman Township on April 15. County sheriff deputies said that Jonathan Beau Haase, 34, of Williston, North Dakota, was southbound on Highway 29 when he reached for a cell phone on the floor of his vehicle at 2:46 p.m. His vehicle crossed over the northbound lane, entered the east ditch and hit an approach which caused the vehicle, a 2000 Nissan Frontier, to launch into the air.
County commissioners, at their April 10 meeting, voted to have an engineering consulting firm study options for a possible fish passage at Phelps Mill. "We're a long way from making any decision, and any plan will include input from the residents of Otter Tail County," said County Public Works Director Rick West. West said a fish passage, if it were constructed at Phelps Mill, would involve a series of fish ladders, or fishways. An abutment would be modified to allow fish to pass over it.
A Pelican Rapids man, Brian Torres, 23, was sentenced to 90 days in the county jail on March 28 for a felony conviction of theft and transfer of property. However, a 21-month sentence at the state correctional facility in St. Cloud was stayed for 20 years, dependent on good behavior. The crime dates back to May 1, 2016. Torres pled guilty on Jan. 5, 2018. A mental health evaluation also was ordered by the judge on March 28. Torres will be under supervision of a probation officer and was ordered to comply with periodic searches of his residence, vehicle and workplace.
Sheriff deputies, on April 11, reported that a house east of Erhard on Highway 24 had extensive damage following a fire. A heat lamp for chickens was the likely cause of the fire. Several baby chicks perished as a result of the fire. Safety experts note that some chickens may try to perch on a suspended heat lamp and knock it down into combustible bedding material such as sawdust or straw. They encourage owners to make sure that heat lamps are installed in locations where they are far enough away from any combustibles to preclude ignition.
Judges in Otter Tail County court, in late March, issued Stays of Imposition for three county residents who had been found guilty of felonies. Under the Stays of Imposition, each person will have his or her felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if the person stays law abiding during a five-year probationary period. The three individuals are from Perham, Parkers Prairie and Pelican Rapids. Ashley Ann Collins, 25, of Perham, had been found guilty to fifth degree felony drug possession. Her crime dates back to May 22, 2017.
Sheriff deputies reported a break-in and thefts near Highway 18, northeast of Fergus Falls, on April 2. Homeowners reported the break-in at 6:26 p.m. Taken were a strong box from a bedroom, cash, collector coins, personal documents and other items. The investigation was continuing as of April 3. Shots fired at abandoned building in town of Vergas The sheriff office was contacted on April 2 concerning shots fired at an abandoned building in Vergas.
County Economic Development Director Nick Leonard briefed the County Board of Commissioners about opportunity zones, a new community development program established by Congress in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Commissioners voted to designate two opportunity zones in Otter Tail County, one in Pelican Rapids and one in Parkers Prairie. The intent of the program is to encourage long-term investments in low-income and urban communities nationwide. Each governor can designate 25 percent of the eligible census tracts as opportunity zones in his or her state.