By Shawn Jansen
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Pine rolls out comprehensive plan

Open houses, public hearing set, public comment sought

 

This future land use map is a tool to guide future land use within Pine County, according to Land Services Director Kelly Shroeder.

Water quality, agriculture and Internet access are among the concerns to be addressed by county policy over the next 15 years. These issues and more came up as the Pine County Board of Commissioners met as a committee of the whole last Tuesday to review the first draft of the comprehensive plan, which was developed over the last year with public input through surveys and public meetings.

The board was joined for the discussion by Land Services Director Kelly Schroeder, Land and Resource Manager Caleb Anderson and two members of the steering committee, John Von Rueden of Hinckley and Jim Sloan of Pine City, who were involved in the plan development.

In discussing the process of gathering input and putting the plan together, Anderson emphasized, "I think the steering committee aspect of it was very helpful to not have kind of our office's interpretation always of the public input ... That part has helped keep it 'of the people.'"

District 1 Commissioner Steve Hallan said he didn't want to see the plan stuck on a shelf. "It has to be used, has to be looked at," he added.

Future land use map

At times, the discussion referenced a future land use map developed by the team based generally on tax classifications and aerial views.

"This is not a zoning map," said Shroeder.

"One of the things that we had to balance with this map was how much growth we were expected to have over the next 13 years, and it looks like it's about 11 percent population increase," said Anderson.

"Growth should be focused on the pink and yellow," said Schroeder. Pink areas on the map are designated mixed use, and yellow is residential.

Plan goals

The plan is divided up into sections that focus on a given goal, the facts and concerns that impact that goal, and the committee's recommendations for that goal. The goals center on agriculture, economic and community development, recreation, natural resources, education, and transportation and infrastructure.

County Administrator David Minke pointed out the need to keep the comprehensive plan goals broad, while the county can pull more specific goals from the plan in the strategic planning process.

Following are a sampling of notable facts and concerns related to the major goal topics summarized in the plan and the ensuing discussion based on the goal area. To review the plan in its entirety, including specific recommendations, see the "Public input sought" section at the end of the article. (The appendices to the plan contain the data, data sources and analysis used in the plan's formation and referenced here.)

Agriculture

Farmers are getting the squeeze:

– Agriculture is the largest land use within Pine County, however, the total number of farms decreased by a third over from 1978-2012, and nationally, more than half the farmers are age 55 or older and will be looking to retire in the next 15 years.

– While the market value of agricultural products sold from the county is significant, there are few agricultural support services within the county.

– It is getting more difficult to profit from farming while it is becoming harder to expand a farm due to rising land values.

– Of the county's 165 feedlots, only 2.7 percent are annually inspected.

Discussion arose over the county's ability to afford its own agriculture educator through the University of Minnesota Extension Office, and Anderson pointed out the goal was broad enough to include that or smaller, specific programs through the Extension Office.

Schroeder said funding was available through the little utilized Agriculture Best Management Practices (BMP) Loan Program to help local farmers to make improvements by adopting best practices.

It was noted the state likes to see counties inspect around 10 percent of its feedlots per year, and there is funding available for it from the state.

Economic, community

development

Employment and housing needs impact each other:

– More than 80 percent of Pine County homes do not meet the state's goal for Internet speed.

– More citizens commute than work within the county.

– The county unemployment rate has been consistently higher than the state since 1990.

– Pine County's housing shortage exists for all types, including market rate, affordable, rental and senior housing.

– About one-third of Pine County's workforce are employed in the lowest median wage occupations of food preparation and serving.

– The county ranks 14th in the state for poverty, resulting in compromised mental health, unreliable transportation and elevated levels of chemical abuse.

– The population in Pine County is projected to rise 11.9 percent over the next 10 years.

Schroeder said most of the goals in these areas would be under the direction of Robert Musgrove, Coordinator of Economic Development for the county.

The county led two focus groups, one on mental health and another on housing, in October 2016, and the results of those discussions were incorporated into the recommendations related to economic and community development.

Schroeder said the mental health experts convened had not communicated much with the other experts in the room, and for the housing focus group, there didn't appear to be any experts, per se.

Sloan said, "That focus group as well as the mental health group, I think, really emphasized the need for the county board to be facilitators to collaborate among the different experts on the pieces of information that are out there."

One of the economic recommendations was to provide assistance to property owners for blight cleanup. Minke said the county is often asked by cities and townships about blight. Von Reuden said that people have the opinion they own the land, they can do what they want.

Later in the discussion, Hallan noted half the residents don't have garbage service.

Recreation

Capitalizing on recreational opportunities could impact the local economy and citizen health:

– Leisure and hospitality is the largest Pine County industry.

– The county has 243,000 acres of public land, the use of which is the second largest land use in the county.

– A recent health assessment identifies obesity as a priority issue for residents.

It was noted that the development of a countywide recreational or parks and trails plan would be key to obtaining funding for such projects.

Natural resources

A balance between utilizing natural resources while maintaining water quality and protecting natural areas will need to be found:

– While timber harvest and stumpage revenue is estimated in the millions annually, emerald ash borer infestations are just to the north and oak wilt has been confirmed in the county.

– National and regional trends toward renewable energy production may become a reality in the county with prospects for solar farms occurring the summer of 2016.

– The East Central Solid Waste Commission spent $2 million to expand its landfill in 2015.

– A significant amount of speculative aggregate resources has been identified in the county, but the county currently does not monitor aggregate mine development or reclamation, thereby posing a threat to groundwater.

– A great deal of Pine County's residential development is adjacent to lakes and rivers.

Schroeder said, "We've had two really bad floods; we've purchased nearly 40 properties."

A commissioner noted how frequently water quality comes up across the different goal areas.

Education

Pine County citizens need lifelong learning opportunities:

– Only 13.5 percent of citizens 25 years old and up have Bachelor's degrees or higher, compared to 32.6 percent across the state.

– The Internet has become an increasingly useful tool for distance learning by which students can obtain a college degree.

– Education was ranked as the second highest planning priority in the community survey.

– Existing educational resources include Pine Technical and Community College, the Local 49 Training and Apprenticeship Center and the Audubon Center of the North Woods.

Broadband needs keeps popping up, one commissioner noted.

Transportation and

infrastructure

The need for transporation will have to be balanced against environmental concerns:

– Only two public transit options exist and one taxi service even though public transportation offers energy savings and decreased pollution.

– The population 65 years and older is expected to increase, and so will their need for transporation.

– Sustainably built infrastructure ranked highest as a planning priority in the community survey.

– All-terrain vehicle (ATV) travel in road ditches has lead to soil erosion, impacting water quality and ecosystem health.

Anderson said a newer Region 7E Local Human Service Transit Coordination Plan was coming soon.

Public input sought

The public's input on the county comprehensive plan is being sought. Open houses will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, January 23, at the Rutledge Community Center, 7369 County Highway 61, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 24, at the Pine County Courthouse, 635 Northridge Dr. NW, Pine City.

The plan is available for viewing at the following locations:

– Pine County website, http://www.co.pine.mn.us,

– Pine County Courthouse, Zoning office,

– Public libraries in Sandstone, Hinckley and Pine City.

A public hearing on the plan will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, February 21, at the Pine County Board Room at the courthouse.

 

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