County required to pay $24,414 back to CRWP

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Swift County will be writing a $24,414 check to the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) as its share of grant funds for which there was a lack of adequate accounting.

The funds came from grants given through to BWSR for work in the Chippewa River Watershed Project area.

There are eight counties in the watershed: Swift, Grant, Stevens, Douglas, Pope, Chippewa, and Kandiyohi. It stretches from the southern end of Otter Tail County west to include Norway Lake and Lake Florida in Kandiyohi County, west to include the Hancock area, and south where it enters the Minnesota River at Montevideo. Swift County accounts for 29 percent of the watershed, second only to Pope County’s 30 percent.

The watersheds work closely with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on monitoring of streams, rivers, and lakes for water quality. There are a number of watercourses within the watershed that have been identified for impairments, primarily due to excessive sediment run off, excessive phosphorus, and potentially e-coli. Some of the runoff contains farm chemicals and waste from livestock.

Each of the eight counties was asked to approve the reimbursement to BWSR. The other seven counties voted unanimously to make the payments while Swift County voted 4-1 to approve it.

Commissioner Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson and Torning Township voted against making the payment. Commissioners Gary Hendrickx, District – Appleton, Joe Fox, District 4-Hegbert Township, Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, and Ed Pederson, District 2-north Benson and Benson Township, voted in favor of writing the check.

The missing funds came from state and federal grant funds the watershed received, but weren’t documented or classified the right way, Fox, who serves as the county’s representative on the watershed board, told fellow commissioners.

 “Nobody stole any money or nothing, but it was money that was used on projects and not documented right,” he said.

In the 23 years that Kylene Olson was the Chippewa River Watershed Project director she brought in $17.5 million into the watershed through grants, loans, and local matches, Fox said.  “That was a lot of federal and state money coming in here,” he said.

Olson retired from her position early in 2018. Emma Volz was hired as the new coordinator in July 2018, but funding for her position ended this past March. Fox said that the watershed currently does not have a director.

BWSR had approved two years of projects for the watershed with state grant funds, but then it denied it all, Fox said. “They can do that,” he said. It means the district had to come up with all the paperwork to document how it spent the funds.

“To clarify,” Hendrickx said, “BWSR approved the expenditures, but when they went back and audited the expenditures the paper work may not have been sufficiently completed. Is that right?” he asked.

“I would say that the money wasn’t in the checking account to pay back the rest of the loan that wasn’t used,” Fox replied. “That is the main thing.”

Because the spending wasn’t being tracked, some of it could have gone to salary because it wasn’t being tracked,” Hendrickx said. “Some of it, yep,” Fox replied.

There is about $30,000 in the watershed checking account that could be put toward the reimbursement payment, however Fox said that if it made the payment it would just end up coming back to ask the counties for funds to operate...

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