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City-leased lots spark debate in Ottertail

If good fences make good neighbors, good patios--at least in the city of Ottertail--certainly do not.

Six property owners on Ottertail's Donald Lake came before the city council at a June 19 meeting to voice concerns about sand, steps, patios, and even a rope swing that have been added to a city-owned section of the shoreline.

According to Ottertail city manager Lee Sherman, the city has been leasing several small dock rental properties to area residents since 1992. The pieces of land are rented annually for $75, allowing people without lakefront property to have a dock on Donald Lake.

Leading the discussion about the Donald Lake residents' concerns over the city's leased lots was Bob Jennings, a lake resident and local realtor. He contended that the steps and patios were creating a harmful amount of stormwater runoff that was contaminating the lake.

"The $75 a year isn't enough to wreck our lake," Jennings contended before the council.

He presented several photographs to the council, revealing the types of structures that had been built on the leased lakeshore areas. In one photo, Jennings showed one of the lots with a patio that he said had recently been built.

"Well, we'll have to go over the whole thing and tighten it up," said Mayor Raymond "Ole" Mounts in response to Jennings' presentation.

Councilmember Jeff Spanswick expressed his surprise at Jennings' findings, saying, "I wasn't aware that they were building patios and steps down there."

Jennings asked the council if the individuals leasing the lots needed a permit with the city to put steps in on the embankment leading to the lake. Sherman said that the leasing parties had been told that they could put steps in, but that they couldn't cement them in.

Contrary to the opinion Jennings and several other Donald Lake landowners held about their lake being destroyed, Sherman voiced his opinion to the council that, from what he has seen during his time working for the city, people have kept up the lots very well. An example he gave was one leased lot where the renter had planted several hostas to help prevent erosion.

"My opinion is that since I've started this job, we've made the runoff situation better down there," Sherman said of his view of the city's environmental position.

"The mentality of living on a lake has certainly changed," continued Sherman. He said he believes that Donald Lake has improved considerably over the years, following more county and city ordinances to protect water resources from dangers such as stormwater runoff.

Sherman said that he remember a time in the not so distant past when there used to be cows wading in the water on the edge of Donald Lake.

"Is the issue here how they're taking care of their lots, or that you don't want them to have the lots?" Sherman eventually asked Jennings.

"Well, I'd say both," Jennings replied.

Jennings also brought up a concern about some of the large trees that are next to the lake on the leased lots. He said that at least one of the trees looks like it could fall down, posing a potential danger to anyone swimming underneath it. One of the trees in question also has a rope swing attached to it, an observation which prompted Jennings to ask the council if the city would be liable if someone got hurt on the swing.

After hearing the lake residents' concerns, the council decided to review the matter further and physically examine the conditions present on the leased properties.

The leased dock rental properties are located on the north side of Donald Lake, adjacent to the lake's public access.