Cook County Soil & Water welcomes two new staff, and continues work on Rainy River Headwaters-Vermilion River Plan
Soil & Water

Cook County Soil & Water welcomes two new staff, and continues work on Rainy River Headwaters-Vermilion River Plan

The Cook County Soil & Water Conservation District started the new year by welcoming two new staff members to the team. 

“We’ve got new staff to start 2024,” said Illena Hansel, the district manager. “So we are appreciative of some extra helping hands in the office this year.”

Joining the Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) team is Max Tostenson, a conservation technician, and Ann Paulson, the financial administrator. 

Tostenson has previous experience working with erosion and engineering for the SWCD in Wheaton, Minn. In his new role, the Cook County SWCD said Tostenson will implement erosion control practices on streams, lakes, and waterways. He will also conduct water sampling in various parts of the county for water quality data and other tasks.

In her new SWCD position, Paulson will prepare financials and maintain the bookkeeping for all SWCD Board activities. She will also assist with grant writing, public education, and outreach. In a recent interview with WTIP, Hansel said Paulson will work a hybrid model of in-person and remote. 

In addition to welcoming new staff, Hansel said 2024 SWCD projects are well underway. 

One of the ongoing projects is the Rainy River Headwaters/Vermilion River One Watershed, One Plan. The Plan is a collaboration between North St. Louis SWCD, Cook and Lake County SWCD, and St. Louis County SWCD. The Plan intends to protect and restore water resources through county planning efforts and initiatives. 

The Rainy River Headwaters/Vermilion River One Watershed, One Plan recently wrapped up a 60-day public comment period on Jan. 6. The next steps include hosting a public hearing to collect final input from the public before it is sent to the Board of Water and Soil Resources for approval. 

“We’re at the final stages of this,” Hansel said. “It’s a big plan that we can all manage the resources together instead of putting (on) band-aids.”

The hybrid public hearing will be held on Jan. 26 from 10 a.m. to noon, with multiple options for the public to attend. The meeting will be held at the Minnesota North College in Ely, the Seagull Lake Community Center on the Gunflint Trail, and virtually via Zoom.

Hansel said coming up in 2024; the Cook County SWCD is also working on a few collaborative projects with the highway department to replace a culvert on Little Devils Track River. In addition, she said the SWCD is focusing on education and outreach this summer, primarily on shorelines. 

Last but not least, Hansel said it will be working on robust water monitoring and collaboration with Minnesota Pollution Control. The monitoring involves the work of volunteers to collect water samples approximately three times a month. “So if individuals are interested in volunteering, we’re still looking for volunteers for our streams and for our lakes.” 

WTIP spoke with Illena Hansel, Cook County SWCD district manager, to learn more about the new staff and the upcoming 2024 projects.