Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Poor Economy = People In Need

At a recent Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) meeting, the board of directors was updated on requests for services in the nine county offices of MVAC. The data is comparing a four month period from last year and this year. In other words the four months of October, November, December 2007 and January 2008 are compared with October, November, December 2008 and January of 2009.
The kind of help requested is listed first. The first numbers are requests from 2007-08 and the second set of numbers are requests from 2008-09.
Car repair: 1700----------------3552
Emergency grants: 3616--------------4260
Energy Assistance: 19416-----------------18282
Financial Management: 1110---------------------1421
Food: 1046--------------------------1525
Housing Evictions: 1990-----------------2249
Jobs: 8584---------------------------10919
Medical/Dental: 681----------------------933
The board has been told many times from staff who work with needy populations that the number one most valuable asset a person can have in order to navigate the troubled waters that life throws at us is a good education. At the very least, people need to be encouraged to stay in school or obtain a GED. If we could just find ways to encourage continued education - everyone would benefit. end

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The “Food verses Fuel” critics keep heaping criticism on the corn farmers for using this food source for fuel. According to them we are supposed to use switchgrass and other carbohycrate sources to produce fuel. The corn farmer producers are not against using other products. They are, however, smart enough to know that until there is an alternative, corn is the most available, easiest to transport and there is enough of it to serve both needs. The food verses fuel people never seem to admit that their argument falls flat on its face because there are no ethanol plants in the United States that are equipped with the technology and equipment to make cellulosic ethanol.

Minnesota has been a leader in alternative fuels and most of the ethanol plants in the state are locally owned by area farmers. We have been a leader in the corn based ethanol and we MAY be the first state to have a plant using the cellulosic process. According to an article in the April-June edition of “AURI Ag Innovation News”, a feasibility study for such a plant is under way in Little Falls. Central Minnesota Ethanol Coop is the corn based plant already operating there and for them to expand, they would have to compete for corn from other existing plants. Michael Sparby, AURI project director said, “given their location at the northern end of Minnesota’s corn range, they have to be creative and innovative if they want to grow.” AURI is supporting technical and economic feasibility studies of the cullulosic facility.

The plant in Little Falls is working with Bell Independent Power Company and Toronto based SunOpta BioProcess, Inc. to jointly build, own and operate the plant. It is expected that this plant would be one of the first commercially-viable cellulosic plants in the world. SBI has 30 years experience and is making ethanol in Spain and working on a plant in China. The Little Falls plant would use SBI’s proprietary process for pretreatment, using heat and steam to partially hydrolyze lignocellulosic fibers so they can be fermented for ethanol. Residual lignin will be gasified to power both the new cellulosic facility and the existing ethanol plant. The cellulosic plant will use soft hardwoods such as poplar and aspen trees harvested in a 70 mile radius of Little Falls.

Because the green-cut trees contain about 50% moisture, the proposed process can capture it so no outside water is needed for fermentation. It may even be able to capture enough moisture to offset some of the corn-ethanol plant’s needs also. If the Central Minnesota Ethanol Coop decides to move forward with this new plant, it will take about 16 months to complete. end

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Amid all of the disgust and criticism of the AIG revenue enhancement and resulting bonuses paid to executives, our president has stepped up to the plate and taken full responsibility.

President Obama, speaking in California, said that the folks in DC are busy pointing fingers at everyone. He said if they want to blame somebody, “blame me”. When was the last time this happened? It’s been too long and we may have to go back to Harry Truman for a similar example. end


Recently the Lessard Heritage Council released a recommended list of projects to be funded using the 3/8ths of one percent sales tax money which was approved by Minnesota taxpayers in November. This is new money and the tax will be implemented starting July 1. The Lesssard Council is a structure set up in the language of the amendment to make recommendations regarding the use of the 33% of the money designated to go to wildlife. The list of 19 projects or uses must be approved by the legislature. At least one member of the legislature is not happy with parts of the list. Rep. Rick Hansen of St. Paul has indicated that too much emphasis is being placed on acquisition and not enough on restoration. An article in the Star/Tribune on Wednesday showed one of the projects in Nicollet County. I have not been able to pinpoint the exact use of the money, but a good guess would be the Swan Lake Restoration Project. end

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Under budget!

The Nicollet County Extension Department is a joint effort between the county and the Minnesota State Extension Service. This department has been an example of efficient use of funds for many years and has kept their budget flat or with very small increases. Nathan Crane, director shared this week that the Nicollet County Department came in $6,000 under budget for 2008. Good work and thank you. end

Walking on Glass?

No! However the Nicollet County dispatchers manning the new Dispatch Center in the Nicollet County Law Enforcement Building will be walking on pop bottles. Recycled ones that is. The floor is covered with a new carpet tile that is made of recycled plastics and is very resistant to any kind of water, pop, or coffee stains. This is a good thing! end

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Road Maintenance

Every year Nicollet County applies "overlays" to county roads that are showing signs of wear. Even though the price of a barrel of oil has come down, the price of products that contain substantial amounts of oil stays the same or increases. That is the case with bituminous used to overlay roads. Nicollet County Engineer, Seth Greenwood reports "for a three inch overlay we are looking at around $230,000 per mile. That includes all items to complete the project. Striping, mobilization, bituminous, etc." end