The Benton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-0 to open the county courthouse for business on April 15 without requiring an appointment, accepting recommendations by a security committee and Benton County Public Health to open their doors fully once again.
“We do not believe it will be an issue to social distance in areas like the first floor rotunda,” Benton County Sheriff Ron Tippett said. “Public Health saw no reason we couldn’t open up the courthouse.”
Courthouse offices, including the treasurer's office, had been open to the public by appointment since the summer of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone entering the courthouse beginning on April 15 will be screened for their temperature and be required to wear masks and social distance. Appointments will still be required to obtain drivers licenses.
“We have had a little over 13,000 vaccinations completed in the county, according to Public Health,” Tippett said. “County employees took their second shot on April 1 and will be fully vaccinated by April 15 for the reopening.”
A majority of employees received a vaccine to combat COVID-19, including the 42 who got their second dose on April 1. Cleaning and other health protocols will remain in place for employees. The motion to open the courthouse without appointments was approved 3-0.
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting the board met with Matt Simon of Geno Source LLC regarding a proposed expansion of a dairy feeding confinement operation southeast of Blairstown. The 21 year old operation currently holds 2,850 head and wishes to expand to 3,950 while also updating existing equipment.
“We kind of got to the point where we needed to either invest in the facility and make it something that will last long term, or essentially leave it be and run it into the ground,” Simon said. “We ultimately decided to invest, fix it up and bring in some new technology.”
The expansion and updates will include a system to capture methane called a digester and Simon hopes to improve other features of the facility for the cows’ comfort. A storage shed for machinery and hay will also be built on premise. Geno Source, which has owned the facility since 2014, must go through a process with the Department of Natural Resources and go through the county. Bids for the project will be accepted as soon as approval is received.
The supervisors questioned if the construction would keep up the increase in the head of cows. Simon stated the number of cattle introduced would be gradual and Geno Source did not wish to bring in too many cows at once to cause potential discomfort for their current numbers.
A master matrix reviewed 16 aspects of the plan. The final score determined the facility would be in compliance with DNR requirements and would be safe. No public or written comments were made in regards to the expansion.
The board approved the results of the master matrix 3-0 by resolution. The vote to approve the application went 2-1, with Supervisor Gary Biershenck expressing concerns about the handling of the manure in the case the facility were to close.
In other business, the board approved the Vinton Cruise Committee to use the courthouse lawn on September 11, 2021. Rick Primmer was appointed to represent the Board of Supervisors on the hiring committee for the new Veteran Affairs Director.