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Letter to the editor: Not in favor of Ditch 25 project

An examination of the Otter Tail County website reveals many letters and comments from lake property residents containing pleas for answers to serious questions about the true environmental and fiscal costs of the Ditch 25 project.

Residents of Berger and McDonald lakes have never heard an explanation why water from Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul Lake Improvement District (LMKP LID) must be vented through our lakes instead of using the current Ditch 25, which enters in the north of Big McDonald Lake and exits at the south end of Big McDonald.

In fact, the only explanation found from reading all documents, including emails, engineering reports, and lake association meeting minutes, is that Big McDonald residents "won't support it (using current Ditch 25 through Big McDonald) because of the bogs." No one has seen any cost analysis of at least three alternatives to help our neighboring lakes. We believe the route selected is the worst of all possible routes.

McDonald Lake residents were greatly encouraged by a 13-page letter sent to Otter Tail County by our legal counsel advising (among many other legal issues favorable to our position) that a 3 to 4 mile diversion of water through our two lakes, involving extensive construction, and many new gates and culverts, requires, according to state law, a petition for "improvement" to Ditch 25, necessitating the signatures of 26 percent of the affected residents, rather than a simple petition to connect to or repair an existing ditch system.

Berger and McDonald lake residents also hoped that a recent report by a professional environmental firm (EOR, Inc.) might make a difference since it pointed out many incomplete and inaccurate areas in project documents, including a note that led to the discovery that the narrow, mile-long, mostly mud bottom Berger Lake is actually a shallow lake as defined by Minnesota law, with more than 85 percent of its acreage under 10 feet deep. The remaining 15 percent is only 15-17 feet deep.

It was discovered that project documents actually substituted Heilberger Lake's data for Berger Lake data, incorrectly claiming Berger Lake is 47 ft deep. The concern of many is that water flowing through a shallow lake like Berger Lake would not only damage Berger Lake, but would certainly scour the mud bottom and drop sediment and excessive nutrients in McDonald's deep northeast basin, which we believe will never leave the bay and cause further eutrophication.

The proponents of the project have already admitted McDonald Lake is the only lake in the entire project whose water quality will deteriorate. We believe, due to our two-basin structure, it will be even worse than projected. We sincerely hope, before an approval of the project, that the option to divert water through Berger/McDonald lakes is discussed, a sediment study of the substrate of Berger Lake is conducted, and the environmental effects of using a shallow lake like Berger Lake to vent water through McDonald is studied.

Our hopes were soon dashed after attending the Feb. 22 Otter Tail County Board meeting. Doug Huebsch, during an impassioned plea, made a motion that would, in effect, eliminate any further study of the environmental effect on our lakes. He stated the current project is simply a "repair" rather than an improvement.

In our opinion, he seemed to be willing to ignore state law mandating proper petition use, disregard the concerns of residents of his own district, forget about the concerns of lake associations and property owners downstream and charged ahead with the project, stating that whatever problems arise, they could deal with "later." The county attorney had to remind him his action could bring on a legal reversal.

We wish to remind Commissioner Huebsch that legal battles will cost the taxpayers of Otter Tail County, and that he owes a duty to all of the citizens he serves, to ensure that any project approved by the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners is fair to all of the residents.