O’Brien County officials mull courthouse

Jared Johnson, the O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, talks on Monday, June 22, to the board of supervisors about the coronavirus pandemic in the region.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Board of Supervisors will continue hearing about the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future.

County emergency management agency coordinator Jared Johnson shared his weekly COVID-19 update with the supervisors on Monday, June 22, in Primghar.

He asked board members about when they would want to start the second stage of reopening the county courthouse. June 10 marked the start of the first phase of reopening the building to public foot traffic after it had been closed since March 17.

“I’d say you need to go through the end of July this way and see what you’ve got,” said county auditor Barb Rohwer.

Johnson noted starting the second stage of reopening the courthouse at the end of July would be closer to when area schools would start their fall semesters of classes.

“I’m unsure how that’s all going to work as well,” he said. “I’m wondering where they’ll be at. I’ll probably be reaching out to schools in the next few weeks to see.

“I know a lot of schools have their going-back plans put together with a few different options dependent on what’s going on right at that point in time with COVID,” he said.

Johnson recently went to every county office inside the courthouse to find out how each functioned with the building reopened to public foot traffic.

“Some of the offices — they’re still doing most of the work online so they haven’t seen huge impacts,” he said.

Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management recently notified Johnson about the routine shipments of personal protective equipment — commonly referred to as PPE — the county has been receiving during the past few months.

“They’re going to be slowing those down extensively at the end of this month,” he said. “June 30 is their last day that they’re going to be doing the routine shipments with the National Guard providing the transportation support.

“It’s been really nice that they’ve been helping out with supplies through the National Stockpile,” he said. “It sounds like they’ve been able to get additional supplies. They have enough for what I’ve heard is a three-month time period if we have additional waves or if we see a huge increase in cases.”

Johnson noted Iowa Homeland Security and the Iowa Department of Public Health have provided each county EMA in the state a 30-day stockpile of PPE that can be distributed to area health-care facilities.

“I made room in the new storage building to house some of the items,” he said. “They’re giving us some additional face shields, surgical masks and then also some hand sanitizer.”

Cherokee County has been helping out by storing O’Brien County’s part of the supplies, though Johnson plans on picking up O’Brien County’s portion to store in Primghar.

“The hand sanitizer — I’m looking at leaving it down there since it’s in a warehouse that’s air-conditioned,” he said. “I’ve heard some feedback from some other counties that if it’s really hot out, the hand sanitizer can start to kind of spoil almost a little bit.

“We’ll watch things and then maybe later on in the year we can pick up some of the stuff if we don’t need to use it before then,” he said.

Johnson noted a new Test Iowa site has been opened at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds in Spirit Lake. Test Iowa is a statewide initiative to expand coronavirus testing.

“They opened up a Test Iowa site that is clinic-based, which means that they’re supplying the personnel for the Test Iowa site instead of it being National Guard members,” he said. “Their hospital is staffing it. That’s a new potential location for individuals to go to.”


O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson updated the board of supervisors on Monday, June 22, about the county’s federal flood insurance rate maps for its unincorporated areas.

He noted the county had received a final letter of determination — dated June 17 — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the updated maps.

“FEMA did not receive any appeals of the proposed flood hazard determinations,” Johnson said, paraphrasing the letter. “The flood hazard determinations for your community are considered final.”

The flood insurance rate maps for the county’s unincorporated areas will become effective on Dec. 17.

Before that date arrives, FEMA will send the county final printed copies of the flood insurance rate maps and flood insurance study report, which identified the special flood hazard areas in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Johnson noted the supervisors will have to decide by Dec. 17 whether to create a new flood management program for the county and whether the county will join the National Flood Insurance Program.

The federal program offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners if their community or county participates in it.

Participating communities and counties agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.

In other business on Monday, June 22, the supervisors:

  • Authorized board chair John Steensma to sign a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board in opposition to draft rules being proposed that would remove local control of renewable energy siting approval and placing that control at the state level.

The supervisors moved their regular weekly meeting from Tuesday, June 23, to Monday, June 22, so they could discuss and approve the letter as Monday, June 22, was the IUB’s deadline for public comments on the draft rules.

  • Approved holding a hearing at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, July 14, on the construction application of Bruce and Philip Lorch for two 2,400-head swine buildings at 5945 270th St. about two miles south of Melvin along the O’Brien County-Osceola County border.