Results of Mission inspection awaited

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 1999

The "Mission" house in Lansing Township has been inspected by a deputy State Fire Marshall.

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

The "Mission" house in Lansing Township has been inspected by a deputy State Fire Marshall.

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Tom Jemming of Albert Lea conducted the inspection Monday, but the results of that inspection have not been made public.

The facility houses mainly Hispanic workers in the former Sunset Motel north of Austin along Old Highway 218 (Mower County CSAH No. 45).

Two weeks ago, Mower County staff and officials met with city of Austin officials and staff to discuss the facility. Residents came to an Austin City Council meeting to complain of inhabitable conditions.

Because the facility is located outside the Austin city limits, they were told there was nothing the city could do for them.

However, Mayor Bonnie Rietz did call a meeting of county representatives to discuss what the two local units of government could do cooperatively.

The mayor’s overture at cooperation was rebuffed by the county, who said, in effect, they were aware of it and handling it.

A similar report of inhabitable housing, also outside the Austin city limits, involved a farm home in Lyle Township near the Highway 105 South and Mower County CSAH No. 5 intersection.

Dan Wilson, Austin’s fire chief, accompanied Jemming on the inspection Monday. However, Wilson said he cannot comment, because any State Fire Code violations found would be contained in a report from Deputy State Fire Marshall Jemming to the owner of the property.

Wilson did say he returned to the facility Tuesday to conduct a walk-through inspection for the purposes of creating a fire plan for handling any fire or other emergency at the facility.

The Austin Fire Department has a mutual aid agreement with all other fire departments in the county and is the fire department of record for Lansing Township.

Other sources, who are aware of the Monday inspection by the Deputy State Fire Marshall, said it involved the absence of sprinklers, among other State Code Violations, for a multiple-family facility.

Richard P. Cummings, 1st District Mower County Commissioner and chair of the county board, represents Lansing township.

"I know that he has been there and that’s all I know," said Cummings of the Deputy State Fire Marshall’s inspection. "We haven’t received a report yet of his findings."

Cummings did say the county had requested the inspection by the State Fire Marshall’s office "sometime ago."

Daryl W. Franklin, county zoning administrator, and Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, did not return The Austin Daily Herald’s telephone calls by press-time. Franklin was a part of the Monday visit to the facility.

Also, the State Fire Marshall’s office in St. Paul said it was not aware of Jemming’s inspection.

When the city and the county officials and staffers met, Franklin told city officials and others, the county has contacted Metro Temp Employment Agency, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa about the facility, bit not received a response.

Franklin said the county could not act on any possible zoning violations until it has all the necessary information it needs to make its own ruling.

Austin fire chief Wilson said today, all facilities in Mower County are subject to the State Fire Code and not, of course, the city’s own.

More reports of possible inhabitable conditions or, at least, unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions at the so-called "Mission" surfaced recently when Westminster Presbyterian Church of Austin discussed various social justice issues, including housing.

Residents of the Lansing Township facility were transported to the Austin church to tell of the situation and unidentified church members themselves visited the site.

At the urging of Austin city officials, the county contacted Metro Temp Employment Agency, Inc. a second time after the meeting November 9 and requested a response to their original letter by Friday.

No official could say whether the facility, which is, of course, a private enterprise operated on private property will remain open or if the residents will be displaced.