Benton County to open up parks, but with restrictions

Benton County officials continue to deal with impact of Covid-19

VINTON – Benton County is camping again, after the Benton County Board of Supervisors approved opening the county’s campgrounds, after a meeting held Tuesday, May 19, at the courthouse in Vinton.

It was the recommendation of the health board in Benton County to open the campgrounds, following the provisions issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds, with the exception of the use of bathrooms and showers by the public. They recommend toilets in self-contained camping units.

Karen Phelps of Benton County Conservation said the state just announced it will open its restrooms and cabins in parks. She’s not sure the county will do this because they have not opened yet and they are running on minimal staff. She said they are ready to open campgrounds, but are not sure about the shower houses and public restrooms.

Benton County Supervisors meet with department heads on Covid-19 impact.

Phelps explained the levels of being open. Level 1 is open to self-contained units only. All modern restroom and shower facilities remain closed. Occupancy is limited to six people, unless one’s household has more than six. No visitors would be allowed at the campsite. All people are to practice proper social distancing. Pit toilets are open, but do not contain hand sanitizer or soap. The shelters and nature center will remain closed, as well as playgrounds. They are also recommending cabins remain closed. They are also recommending use of disposable gloves. Level 1 is the level recommended by the county board of health.

Supervisor Chairman Primmer asked if two families who usually “chum” together and get around the campfire, how would that be policed? Phelps said this is difficult, but there is the limit of six people, and they need to be socially distanced. They recommend campers stick to their own campsites. “A lot of people get creative in how they do that,” Phelps observed.

The rules are posted, and if caught violating the rules, they may be removed from the park with no refund, Phelps stressed.

Parks are open to hiking, fishing and kayaking, Phelps said. “We have seen a lot of groups come in, and they kind of merge into a group.” Phelps said they are reminded that even though they are friends, they are asked to please practice social distancing, or at least use a mask and have proper hygiene. Law enforcement has the power to remove people with no refund, and issue a fine.

Phelps said a park is never closed to walk-in traffic. When the gate is closed, the park is closed to camping.

They’ve received a lot of questions. Conservation has been following the recommendation of the county board of health, Phelps explained, and support the supervisors and the board of health. She added this also shows the public’s support of its campgrounds and parks.

Other departments

As of May 19, the courts were on hold and casework is done by telephone, according to Benton County Attorney David Thompson. The earliest a jury trial may be held is July 13, according to the state supreme court. He doesn’t expect the court system to be open to the public by June 1. As for driver’s licenses, people can go online to get six-month extensions. They expect licenses to be renewed by appointment. Discussion was held on how to prioritize appointments for Benton County residents.

Primmer stressed they will have weekly meetings regarding the county’s response to Covid-19. “Just throwing the doors open would be very careless of us,” Primmer said. There was also discussion on how to screen people who come into the courthouse.

Supervisor Gary Bierschenk emphasized the need to move slowly.

Sheriff Ron Tippett said he met with the director of public health on what the “new normal” will look like. No one knows yet, he related.

After discussion, the supervisors approved opening the parks at Level 1 as of Wednesday, May 20, along with a wellness statement, while keeping the rest of the county as it is. They will address the parks again in two weeks.

Scott Hansen of emergency management cautioned that if the state opens up, the Covid-19 numbers will go up. He doesn’t want that to overwhelm the county’s health care system. If people want to go camping, he said didn’t care, as long as it doesn’t affect the county’s employees.

Other business

A budget amendment hearing was held for this year’s budget. With the no objectors, the board approved the amendment. Budgets were amended for conservation, roads and transportation, government services to residents (election), physical health and social services.

Zach Parmenter was approved to fill an empty seat on the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) board. They also discussed moving the IRVM/Roadside Department to the old transportation building, so equipment can be stored. They are at capacity now in their current building. They might also have an office at the old transportation building. Scott Hansen of Emergency Management is also looking for vehicle storage space. Hansen was not sure about moving an office there because of the flood plain issue. Storage of equipment is what the old transportation building was built for, he stressed. Primmer wanted to look into a loft for the building.

A cigarette permit was approved for Kimm’s Mini-Mart, Blairstown.

Kyle Helland received approval for the final plat and resolution for Baldus First Addition to Benton County.

A land use hearing was held for Dustin and Nicole Druschel for land in Section 11, Taylor Township. They plan to build a new home on the parcel. The change was approved. The land is not in production.

Judy Funk discussed next fiscal year’s Heartland Risk Insurance renewal.

Seasonal hires were approved for secondary roads, including Hannah Timmerman at $13 per hour, effective May 21.

Discussion on opening up Benton County.

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