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Raising doubts

Forestry committee votes against carbon credit deal, goes to full board next
Raising doubts
Jake Walcisak
Raising doubts
Jake Walcisak

Citing concerns over the length of time in the contract, members of the county’s forestry and recreation committee voted against the county participating in a carbon credit program.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, committee members went on record opposing the county participating in the carbon credit program at this time. However, the full county board is expected to take up the issue when it meets in early 2024.

Under the carbon credit program, woodland owners such as counties can contract with a broker to have their properties enrolled as part of a carbon exchange. Corporations can then purchase or sell those carbon credits as a way to meet carbon reduction goals.

The county would still maintain ownership and use of the forest, but would sign a contract saying that it will be kept in managed forest for a period of 40 years. Additionally there would be annual monitoring and reporting that See CITY on page 4 would take place.

The major incentive for the county to enroll in such a program, is that it would result in a projected net revenue of about $6 million in the first few years of being enrolled in the carbon registry. This projection takes into account the ongoing monitoring cost which will need to occur over the 40 year contract length, and the recommendation is to escrow $200,000 in the beginning to pay for those costs in the future.

According to forestry administrator Jake Walcisak, about 40% of county forests statewide are currently enrolled in carbon registry programs with Bayfield as the first one. Walcisak has been looking into the program as a potential revenue source for the county for the past few years with the idea brought to the committee almost a year ago.

While previous programs weren’t a good fit, size-wise for the county, earlier this fall, the forestry committee heard from Climate Trust a company wanting to serve as a broker for a potential carbon credit sale from the county. At the October meeting, committee members had reached a consensus that given the scope and funds involved the issue should go to the full county board. At that meeting, committee members chose not to give their opinion on if the county should do it or not.

Committee chairman Scott Mildbrand said board chairman Jim Metz asked him to bring it back to the committee to get a recommendation either yes or no before bringing it to the full county board. Regardless of the outcome of last week’s meeting, the issue would be going to the full county board, either through a resolution brought by an individual board member or being put on an upcoming agenda by board chairman Metz.

The major objection from committee members was the contract length.

“Forty years is too long,” said committee member Jim Gebauer, saying he felt it would tie the county’s hands for too long of a time.

Committee member Rollie Thums also expressed concern, especially about the second 20 years of the contract where the county would have no revenue coming in, but would have to pay out for monitoring costs.

“It sounds like a government entity making a job for someone,” said board member Bud Suckow who attended the meeting as a resident. “It is another government make-work project,” he said.

Walcisak clarified that the carbon credit market is not government run, but rather is designed to be a market-based approach to addressing climate change concerns. “This is a private program, driven by free markets,” he said.

County finance director Larry Brandl also expressed concern over the time frame. “I am leery of the 40 year time span,” he said, noting that while it probably has merit, it is still a relatively new program. He said they may not know if it was good or bad until down the road.

“I am totally against it for 40 years. We are going to tie things up for our future generations,” Thums said.

In the end, a majority of committee members voted to go on record against the proposal. However, they did leave the door open to being willing to look at other options in the future.

Crop damage

Taylor County will pay the renter of farmland near Chelsea Lake for crop damaged during the dam construction last summer as well as paying for half of the cost of an outside appraiser hired by the property owner.

The action came despite county attorney Ruth Ann Koch’s opinion that the county should not pay any of the appraisal fee because the county never agreed to it before the appraiser was hired by Mayer Farms.

During the reconstruction project for Chelsea Lake Dam that took place last summer, the construction crew had to access across a portion of farm field. This resulted in .498 acres of crops being destroyed. The land is owned by Mayer Farms Inc. and is leased by a local farmer.

In gaining access across the parcel, the county had already agreed to pay for the damaged crops, but the question was in what was the value of those crops, with the plan to go by average bushel or ton and the market prices.

Mayer Farms, on its own, hired appraiser Daniel Hoffman at a cost of $125 to assess the value of the crop damage. The forestry department received an invoice from Rod Mayer of Mayer Farms Inc. for $706.46 which includes the crop damage and the appraiser fee.

In a Nov. 13 letter to Mayer Farm, assistant corporation counsel Ruthann Koch stated the county would pay the renter directly for the crop damage, but would not pay for the appraisal fee. She also asked that the renter sign a settlement and release agreement confirming that all claims are settled.

Walcisak shared the information with committee members at last week’s meeting with the committee initially approving paying just the actual damage. However, that action was withdrawn as Mildbrand shared that he had been contacted by Rod Mayer directly about the issue of the county paying for the appraiser fee. “Someone needed to hire someone to get a crop loss estimate,” Mildbrand said, noting the county likely ended up paying its attorney more than the $125 the settlement was.

Gebauer said that since the county didn’t hire the appraiser it shouldn’t be the county to be the ones paying the bill for the work.

In the end, committee members settled on agreeing to reimburse Mayer Farms for half the cost of the appraisal fee. “Pay the bill and get done with it,” Beadles said.

Remote work

Committee members denied a remote work request by Walcisak to be able to work remotely up to four days per week. The request would have primarily impacted office operation in winter and spring when Walcisak is in the office usually four to five days per week compared to in the summer and fall where he is in the field more and in the office only one to three days a week.

In presenting his request, Walcisak said he was confident he would be able to comply with the requirements in the county’s remote work policy. He also noted relatively low foot traffic in the office, noting that only one to two people coming into the office each week actually require him to interact with them directly.

Walcisak cited the productivity of the forest and the recognition the county has gotten for the past six years for forest productivity under his management as well as growing the grant revenue and nearly doubling timber sale revenues.

He called on the county to take the policy into account which states “Taylor County strives to be flexible in their approach to work styles and location and offers employees the ability to perform certain job duties away from the regular workplace.”

Committee members opposed the request. Mildbrand noted that he has consistently voted against the work from home policy.

“I think there are limited instances where it can be a benefit,” Mildbrand said, however, he cited corporate CEOs in bringing concerns about the negative impact on productivity and said he would be voting no on the request.

“I think the job is in the courthouse and belongs here,” Gebauer said, speaking against the request.

Thums said he was unaware of any other department-head positions working remotely. Walcisak noted that while there currently are not any department heads working remotely, at least one other department head in the county has also filed a request with their oversight committee.

“I think times are changing,” Beadles said, noting he has two sons who work from home. “I think a lot of times you can be just as productive working remotely,” he said, noting that Walcisak would still have to answer to someone.

“If the employee can’t be trusted to work remotely maybe they shouldn’t be there at all,” Beadles said.

Mildbrand disagreed, noting there were negative impacts to the workers for being remote. He gave the example of his son who currently works remote but who misses the interaction with his coworkers.

Thums objected to the request over concerns of setting a precedent for the county. “I don’t think we should be setting precedent in forestry, we should be following precedent,” Thums said.

He called for the remote work policy to be reviewed by the personnel and finance committee. In the end, the committee voted 3-2 to deny the request with Brooks and Beadles opposed to denying and Thums, Gebauer and Mildbrand in favor of denying the request.

In other business, committee members:

  Approved the bids for three timber sales totaling 368 acres. The county received 12 bids for the projects, which is significantly up from recent years although the county had set lower minimum bid values to reflect market conditions. The combined total minimum bids for the three sales was $144,508. The approved high bids for the sales totaled $234,969.50. Czarnezki Forest Products was the high bidder on all three projects. The company has done extensive work in the county forest for many years. Other bidders were Flannel Fleet Logging, Smola Enterprises, and Gumz Logging.

  Approved the bills which included the purchase of a new 4-wheeler for the department. The forestry department’s existing four-wheeler was shifted to the Buildings and Grounds department to replace a unit there that dates from the mid-1990s and was no longer safe to use. The new four-wheeler was a budgeted outlay item for the department. However, Mildbrand objected and voted against approving the bills stating he didn’t think the county should have bought a new four-wheeler stating he feels the county spends too much. In addition to the no vote from Mildbrand, Thums abstained.

  Received an update on the dam projects. Wildlife improvement projects will be taking place at Camp 8 dam this winter and Walcisak said a dock is nearly completed and should be delivered soon. Suckow raised concern about the potential for kayaks or small boats from falling into the water inlet at Chelsea Lake Dam, expressing concern that a wire strand around the inlet was not sufficient to keep people from going into it.

  Received word that Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council, received a grant to fund a limited term employee summer position to work in the forestry department. The position is funded entirely through the grant funds and will pay for up to 500 hours of work over 2024, 2025 and 2026.

“I think a lot of times you can be just as productive working remotely.”

— Gary Beadles in support of allowing a remote work request from the forest administrator