Mary and Walter Koep's $91.98 hotel bill, accrued after the couple said they were forced from their home because of noise from Crow Wing County's building project, has been paid by the county.
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said the Koeps sent a letter to his office requesting he use money from the county attorney's contingency fund to pay the hotel bill. In order to use the fund Ryan needed judicial approval, and after receiving authorization from Judge Richard Zimmerman last week, Ryan decided to pay the Koeps' bill.
"In the interest of being a good neighbor I decided to do it," Ryan said. Payment was sent to the Koeps Wednesday, County Administrator Peter Herlofsky Jr. said.
The Koeps, who live on Laurel Street next to construction for the downtown Brainerd government complex, left their home one night in March and stayed at the Ramada Inn. The Koeps then submitted their hotel bill to the Crow Wing County Board.
Reached at her home Thursday, Mary Koep said she ran into Ryan at Brainerd City Hall in April. She said Ryan told her if the noise ever got that bad again she should just go to a motel and submit the bill to him.
Koep said she was grateful to Ryan.
As a former county board member and current Brainerd City Council member, Koep said she would have agreed to the expenditure. She said she is sensitive to the misery government can cause
people. The noise levels and subsequent lack of sleep were creating health concerns for her husband, she said. Koep said the county could have mitigated the noise by moving the heaters earlier.
"We didn't cause the situation, they did," Koep said. "And the evidence was there they broke the law several times."
The city of Brainerd measured the noise in February and found levels were in excess of 58 decibels. At the time, Jeff Hulsether, city engineer, reported the decibel level was "clearly and significantly in excess" of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency nighttime noise standards.
The MPCA's nighttime maximum is 50 decibels. According to the Sight & Hearing Association, 30 decibels is a faint whisper while 90 decibels comes from a lawn mower or truck traffic.
"The government isn't above the people," Koep said. "They need to be responsible. They are not above the law."
While the board had been reviewing the Koeps' request it had not authorized the payment. Ryan doesn't need county board approval to use his contingency fund.
Board Chairman Gary Walters said he wasn't aware the Koeps' bill had been paid until he spoke Thursday with Herlofsky. Walters said he would have liked to see the issue resolved by the county board but understands Ryan's decision to resolve the issue.
"I trust Don Ryan's judgment that paying the bill was in the best interest of the county," Walters said. "Personally I would have preferred not to pay anybody for bills we don't owe, but that's subjective. I think we as government officials and as a government need to do the best we can for the public. Even if the construction is perceived to be interfering with her life, if that $90 makes for a better situation overall that's the way to go."
The Koeps have lodged several complaints with the city of Brainerd that noise levels were disruptive, especially at night when they were trying to sleep.
In January, the county hired Northern Technologies Inc., St. Cloud, to take a decibel survey near the residential area next to the construction site. Northern Technologies reported decibel levels ranged from 47.1 to 50.3 when traffic and other background noise was excluded. After the city conducted a test in February, the county had another noise test as well. And with sound levels exceeding regulations, the county moved heaters at the construction site.
Commissioner John Ferrari said he first heard about the Koep payment Thursday night.
"I don't think it's right," Ferrari said. "I disagree with paying her."
Ferrari said paying Koep opens up a "whole can of worms" regarding other people who may have a claim about noise. Possible scenarios include a complaint from someone who works nights and sleeps during the day and is faced with road construction nearby, Ferrari said.
Commissioner Terry Sluss also heard about the payment for the first time Thursday.
"If it had come back to the county board I would have voted against it because of the precedence it would have set," Sluss said. While noting Ryan has dollars he can spend without county board approval, Sluss said he did not think it was a wise spending of county dollars.
Commissioners Ed Larsen and Dewey Tautges could not be reached for comment.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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