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In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Supervisors approved sending letters to residents/landowners about violations of the state code regarding obstructions in county right of way (ROW) easements. Board member Abe Miller was opposed and prior to the vote had suggested a change in the letter to allow landowners to seek permits to use the ROW. In particular he stressed the use would not be on daily basis.
Chairman Richard Young said that does not follow Chapter 318 of the Iowa Code giving the board the option of allowing Miller’s suggested exemptions or following the code as written. Part of his argument rested with the length of some of the use, dating back as much as 40 years.
Supervisor Jack Seward, Jr. said the use of Miller’s permit proposal “does not conform to the law,” that the permits in the code only relate to allowing construction work in the ROW area.
He and Young both explained that a resident could come to the board to explain a situation the resident believed warranted a permit. They also agreed that the county would be liable for not following state code.
The code specifically lists as obstructions fences, livestock, hay bales, logs, vehicles, machinery, brush, trash and anything else that could be a safety hazard by blocking drainage resulting in soil erosion through flooding as well as causing sight problems at road intersections.
When asked if the livestock included Amish owned horses grazing the ROW, County Engineer Jacob Thorius told The News “Yes. All livestock: cattle, goats, horses, sheep, all of them.”
The letters, which will specify location and problem, provides the recipient with three months of the date of the letter to rectify the issue with the county doing any backslope repairs and clearing. If it is done within three months by the owner, the county will still clear the area and assess costs to the violator.
The issue has been discussed by the board since summer when it received complaints about obstructions, including planted crop rows, in county ROWs. Some involved utility companies trying to access poles and lines where crops have been planted and one or two dealt with machinery in the ditches.
In other business, the board:
• tabled action regarding the 28E Agreement with Keokuk County about sharing an assistant county attorney to next week to allow for a complete resolution form;
• approved a resolution setting a public hearing for 9:30 a.m. January 17 in the supervisors office regarding refinancing for a loan agreement in a principal amount not exceeding $3.6 million. Estimated savings of the move, which involves a possible better interest rate, is $45,000. However, if the rate does not prove to be a savings, the matter will be dropped explained County Treasurer Jeff Garrett;
• appointed assistant county attorney Jennifer Lerner was the acting county attorney, effective December 24 to serve until the board approves and appoints a new county attorney to fill the term being vacated December 23 by Shaun Showers who is leaving to be a judge in the 8th judicial district, starting in January. Lena told The News that there are no pending major cases and if a major one arises, “we can call on the attorney general’s office.”;
• made appointments to area boards and committees;
• were told by Young that the county should look at having its own Emergency Management operation as opposed to continue arrangement with Keokuk County. The suggestion came from the county’s Emergency Management Commission. Washington County Emergency Management Cordinatinator Larry Smith (who serves both counties) provided “a rough figure” of $86,646 for a 100 percent operation. Following some discussion about costs and funding sources, as well as a budget certification deadline of second Wednesday in February, Seward said “I believe would could extend the agreement” (which would expire in June), adding “we have to look at the budget” and consider options and
• went to a joint work session at 11 a.m. with the county Public Health Department at the Washington Public Library to discuss a possible building option for the department. No action would be taken.