Reporting Bill Hudson
PINE CITY, Minn. (WCCO) – The sound of relief comes in the roar of heavy equipment. Using a diesel shovel and a front-end loader, crews are scooping up piles of rotting garbage, bringing smiles to neighbors’ faces.
“It makes my day real happy,” said neighbor Mike Sullivan.
Neighbors along Canalville Lane in Pine County first became concerned when the former property owner, John Saunders, died and left an incredible mess of garbage behind. As winter turned to spring, the garbage began to smell and attract rodents.
It was a concern not lost on Pine County’s Director of Health and Human Services.
“There was the potential for rats and other animals to come in and spread disease,” Linda Cassman said. “There was rotting food.”
At first, many thought any cleanup of the abandoned property would have to wait for the descendant’s estate to go through probate.
Pine County Commissioner Mitch Pangerl spent countless hours trying to put a cleanup plan together that would withstand any legal challenges.
“You want to do it quicker,” Pangerl said. “But we’ve got to make sure we do it the right way.”
Turns out the “right way” is a state law requiring local health officials to act when public health is endangered.
The statute, MN 145A.04, powers and duties of board of health, require a county or municipality to take action after a 10-day waiting period to remedy a serious public health threat, whenever a responsible party or property owner cannot be located.
After the 10-day posting period, Pine County put the job up for bids and the contractor was hired to begin removing the first of many 30-yard dumpsters filled with debris.
Nearby, neighbor Brian Fahning is allowing his kids to once again play outside, no longer concerned about the dangers and the obnoxious odors next door.
“We want to make sure the welfare of our children is first and foremost,” Fahning said. “We are definitely breathing easier again and resting easier.”
The estimated $7,000 cost of cleanup will be recovered when the county is allowed to sell the property after probate.