Even as the state chugs ahead in expanding high-speed internet access, broadband remains a source of frustration in many rural areas.

At their March 9 meeting, Otter Tail County commissioners agreed to pay $30,000 for a two-year position to focus on expanding broadband access.

It’s through an organization called Lead for Minnesota, which seeks to supply leaders age 21 to 30 to help rural communities with a variety of issues. In this case, the issue is broadband access, with Land O’ Lakes sharing the cost to place four of these leaders, called fellows, throughout Minnesota.

“Certainly broadband has been a topic for many years at the county,” said Community Development Director Amy Baldwin. “It piqued our interest.”

Having someone in that role would help Otter Tail County best leverage state and federal funding, which is becoming increasingly available, she said.

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Lead for Minnesota will hire the person to fill that spot, and they will work in Otter Tail County for two years beginning in August. Baldwin said the county already has the funds to pay for the position.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Commissioner Wayne Johnson. He cited a recent West Central Initiative poll that found that the No. 1 issue people cared about was infrastructure, including roads, sewer/water, and broadband. “It was overwhelming, that was what people were concerned about. I think the timing is very good.”

Commission Chairman Lee Rogness said the hire could collaborate with local telecommunications companies, including Park Region and Ottertail Telcomm.

“I look forward to what this can do for us,” Rogness said.

Perham to Pelican Rapids Regional Trail

In other news, Otter Tail County is moving toward condemnation proceedings to be able to proceed with the Silent Lake segment of the Perham to Pelican Rapids Regional Trail.

A couple of property owners have not responded to the county’s requests and others have yet to approve the county’s requests to acquire access to their land.

“I hope this is a smoother deal than the first half of Perham to Highway 35,” said Commissioner Dan Bucholz, who represents the Perham area. “When I was out campaigning, it was just a mess, the way I was understanding it. I hope this is going smoother than that acquisition.”

Dan Bucholz  (Submitted photo)
Dan Bucholz (Submitted photo)

“I think we’ve made a much better attempt to interact with the property owners, leaning from the previous round,” said County Engineer Chuck Grotte. “Unfortunately as you can see, there are still 20 left to sign. We’re hopeful that most of them will sign as time progresses here but we’ve been working on this for about 6 months and still don’t have 100 percent signed.”

Grotte said he wants to resolve the issue before going to court.

Other issues

  • County staff are keeping an eye on the COVID relief measure before Congress. If it becomes law, Otter Tail County could receive about $12 million.

  • In Perham Township, a homeowner north of Marion Lake gets bees in his house in the spring and the fall from hives that are kept in a gravel site across the road. County commissioners said there is no ordinance that covers that issue, and that the homeowner will need to talk to the beekeeper about it.

  • Commissioners heard from the city of Perham that the city plans to continue a tax-increment financing district to fund future housing districts. The city is planning to use the financing strategy to support a 24-unit apartment building. Cities are required to notify counties and school districts when they create tax-increment financing as it reduces the amount of tax money available to local government.

  • The county has 50,000 bait bags to distribute with messages raising awareness of aquatic invasive species. They cost $11,250 from Wildlife Forever.

  • Those holding large events at Phelps Mill rental will now have to pay a damage deposit to be determined by county staff. The amount will depend on the date, type, size of the event and other factors. It’s a way for the county to make sure organizers comply with requirements such as the number of portable toilets and cleaning up the facility, said Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard. There would also be non-refundable fees for large groups, up to $300 for 200 or more guests.

  • Otter Tail County does not allow public input at county commission meetings. A proposal in the Minnesota Legislature would require that every public meeting provide a chance for a public forum.

  • A new district judge will be sworn in on Thursday, March 11. Johnathan Judd, who had been Moorhead's mayor, will replace Judge Barbara Hanson as District Court Judge in Minnesota’s Seventh Judicial District. He will serve in Fergus Falls.