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Pine County Obligated To Cleanup ‘Garbage House’

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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POKEGEMA TOWNSHIP, Minn. (WCCO) — “Disgusting” and “unhealthy” is how residents describe the property of their now deceased neighbor. Now, they are relieved to hear it may be cleaned up soon.

There is so much garbage piled on the Pine County property that neighborhood kids can’t play outside for health reasons, and backyard barbeques are out of the question because of the smell.

“The stench was so powerful coming across the woods we had to close our windows,” said neighbor Rebecca Fahning.

Fahning and her husband, Brian, now wonder if a strange infection that sent their young daughter to the hospital was from bacteria next door. The bacterial infection is being cultured, but early results are inconclusive.

“But it does kind of make you think about that. And then to bring her back home regardless of how she got the infection, when you know there’s bacteria there that’s more than normal is very concerning,” said Fahning.

But the Fahnings and other area residents are pleased to learn that Pine County is pursuing court action that would allow for quick action.

One possible course would be pursued under the county’s “nuisance property” ordinance. Under that, the county would make a court filing to declare the lot “abandoned” property. However, that would take no less than 28 days for a legal public filing.

A quicker and more serious route would be pursuing cleanup under Minnesota Statute 145A.04, which is the state’s board of health law. It directs counties to pursue cleanup of properties that pose a threat to public health within a ten day period.

Retired Minneapolis assistant city attorney, Greg Halbert, pursued a lot of garbage house cases when he worked in the inspections division for Minneapolis.

Halbert says the law gives counties broad authority to take immediate action when public health is endangered. In fact, counties don’t have a choice. If they don’t act, county health officials themselves can face misdemeanor charges.

“Rarely do we ever see the Legislature put in penalty language like that in a law and that tells us how serious the concern is here for addressing the public health nuisance,” said Halbert.

“We just wanted to bring public awareness to this situation, so we could get this cleaned up,” said a relieved Brian Fahning.

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