Cass County Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk had every right to be incensed recently at both the attitude and actions of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
No stranger to the government nor to the idea of voicing his opinion, Gaalswyk was a longtime Crow Wing County deputy who also served a stint as a lay member on the Brainerd Dispatch’s editorial board. What irked the first-term commissioner was a $45,675 penalty that Cass County and Tri-City Paving split and the way the state agency handled the situation.
Here’s a brief summation, based on Cass County Engineer David Enblom’s presentation, of what led to the fine. The county and Tri-City were fined after frequent heavy rains caused dirt from last year’s CSAH 1 project to run into roadside ditches, resulting in dirty water in those ditches.
The MPCA, it appears, has a double standard when informing officials of problems on construction projects. It notifies the Minnesota Department of Transportation days ahead of any inspection and discusses any problems on-site with MnDOT crews and contractors. For county projects however, all inspections are announced and MPCA inspectors are told not to discuss any problems with county officials or contractors. Instead, all communication must be done by email. Enblom noted the county tried to respond to the MPCA email with remedial action but soon there was another rain came, followed by another email with a call for new remedial action.
Enblom was able to demonstrate the county made honest efforts to remedy the problem and was able to reduce the fine from it’s original amount of about $170,00.
Gaalswyk questioned MPCA’s the two-tier system of working with MnDOT construction projects and county projects. He likened it to a scheme to extract money from counties. The Cass County Board backed his motion calling for uniform treatment by the MPCA.
“I think we’ve been robbed,” he said. “It seems it’s just fine to take money from counties but not another state agency.”
If the MPCA’s objective is to fix environmental problems then there’s no sense to its policy of communicating by email only with county officials and area contractors. They should talk directly to the supervisors on the site and get the problem fixed. Both The environment and taxpayer pocketbooks take a hit if the government officials get enmeshed in a futile game of email tag.