Page County officials favor a cautious approach to the eventual reopening of the courthouse in Clarinda.
A Zoom-format meeting of the board of supervisors Tuesday, May 12, included discussion of procedures that would need to be considered to ensure the safety of employees as well as members of the public once they have access to the building again.
The courthouse has been closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with people contacting specific offices by surface mail, phone or computer, or by appointment. Dropboxes on the grounds have also been used as depositories where documents can be retrieved for processing.
Page County Public Health Administrator Jessica Erdman said even after restrictions put in place earlier this spring are lifted, presumably through an order by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, “I really think we will be in some sort of social distancing phase for quite some time.”
She noted some office personnel “have family members who are at higher risk, and are themselves at higher risk. Will we require everyone to come back to work, or will it be up to each individual office?”Additional virus cases have been reported recently in Fremont, Mills and Montgomery counties, she said, which indicates that the southwest Iowa area in which Page County is located continues to be impacted by the pandemic.
Page County Safety Coordinator Tom Nordhues said reopening the courthouse is “not going to be as easy as just unlocking the door and letting [people] in.”
An evaluation of the interior of the building needs to be completed, he said, to establish capacity limits for various areas and to determine if social distancing guidelines can be met.
“It might require us to reconfigure some offices,” he said.
Erdman said she was concerned about the possibility of personal protective equipment (PPE) being diverted to the courthouse, if the reopening would necessitate the use of such material.
“We don’t want to take away from what the hospitals and nursing homes are needing,” she said. “They still have a shortage out there. Is it worth it for us to open, and take supply away from those who really need it?”
The county continues to order PPE through the state, said Page County Emergency Management Coordinator Kris Grebert.
“We’re not getting the full amount we are requesting,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with some private vendors, and we’re trying to get everybody set up with the supply chain.”
Authorization to reopen the courthouse will have to come from the state, said Supervisor Chair Chuck Morris.
“But if we have a plan in place to reopen, we need to talk about the safety of the public and our employees,” he said. “Discussion must also include potential liability for the county if we don’t make every attempt to do this correctly.”
Supervisor Alan Armstrong said “there are steps we have to do,” such as conduct training for staff members, prior to reopening the building. “We’re really pushing the element of time,” he said.
If the courthouse is opened, and an infection subsequently occurs, the result could be a “total shutdown,” said Supervisor Jon Herzberg.
“We need to be very cautious,” he said. “I think we need to keep operating at a low level and see what happens. I think we’re getting in a hurry in the western part of the state.”
Acknowledging that “many people in our community are hurting right now, in very real ways,” Morris said that “as we plan for the new normal in the world, let’s do our best to focus on the big issues at hand, rather than the inconveniences of such things as wearing masks or working behind Plexiglas shields.”
In other matters at the meeting, the supervisors approved a road use agreement with Contrail Wind Project, LLC, which is developing a wind farm in the southwest part of Taylor County.
The company will be transporting material over roads in Page County to reach the site, and the agreement stipulates the parent firm, Invenergy, will maintain the roads and repair any damage incurred from heavy traffic.
“We need to have this in place, even though there will be no wind turbines in this project in Page County,” said Page County Engineer J.D. King. “The only facility is a substation on 316th Street.”
He said the agreement is similar to one the company executed with Taylor County, but with “different routes. They added a section of [county route] J55 to this.”
Morris noted the project has “utilized a large portion of our infrastructure in eastern Page County. Invenergy is willing to sign an agreement to take care of our roads for a project that’s in a different county. This is a plus.They wouldn’t have to do this. It certainly protects our interest in Page County for the excessive use that occurs on those roads.”
Invenergy representative Hannah Pawelczyk said the company would also pay fees for permits to haul heavy loads of material on the roads.
Work on the project has been delayed due to the pandemic, she said, but the company hopes to start moving transformers later this summer.
In other business, the supervisors:
Approved changes to a 28E agreement with the regional mental health organization giving county boards additional voting ability when approving expenditures of county-generated funds.
Approved the assignment of a county-held tax sale certificate to Craig Rowe for a parcel of land in Coin.
Heard comments from Tom Wagoner about the condition of a section of route M63.