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County board approves Ditch 25 outlet

The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners has approved an outlet plan for Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes, west of Perham, that ties into Ditch 25.

Regulatory hurdles remain before this can become a reality.

Many downstream residents continue to oppose the plan. Though some believed a consensus had been reached at a public meeting last week, downstream residents have since let it be known that this is not the case.

"We strongly oppose the outlet plan, and many others downstream feel the same way as we do," Phyllis Freeman told the county board at a meeting Tuesday. Freeman is a retiree who lives at Dead Lake with her husband, Mervin. "We're here today so that we can express our concerns."

Downstream concerns include, but are not limited to, increased phosphorus levels, an influx of invasive species and water quality deterioration.

The proposed outlet route would extend in a southwesterly direction. Water would discharge from Little McDonald Lake to Berger Lake, in turn flowing through Big McDonald, Round, Star, Dead, Walker and Otter Tail lakes. Then the water would flow into the Otter Tail River.

Initial costs for the project will be borne by the property owners of Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes. Petitioners of the outlet plan will pay an initial fee of $10,000.

County officials are currently involved with a study of redetermination of benefits, related to necessary enhancements to Ditch 25 that might benefit additional property owners.

Under the plan, drainage operations will be temporarily halted when adverse situations come into play downstream. The county will work on this project in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other agencies.

"This project offers relief to those who are suffering (through high water levels), it ensures public safety and it uses science to protect and ensure minimal impact to the environment," said County Commissioner Doug Huebsch. "Venting clean water from our lakes, during dry times through controlled structures, is prudent and logical."

Among those urging a go-slow approach is Dead Lake resident Doug Martin, who on July 16 expressed water flow concerns with the proposed outlet.

Others believe some state-mandated public feedback requirements might not be met regarding improvements to Ditch 25.

Star Lake resident Rod Spidahl said he specifically asked the county attorney if all the repairs, improvements and other work needed along the ditch are included under the Minnesota statute that the county has been following, and was told that they are not.

While one statute governs repairs, a separate statute governs improvements, he said, "yet the commissioners and petitioners for the Ditch 25 seem to be overlooking this. This point is crucial... as more public feedback is required under the other statute. As the county attorney stated publicly that all the work required could not be done under the statute being presently used, how can the commissioners proceed as is?"

Details for the operating plan, such as operation of the gates and valves and restrictions on operations, will be voted on by the county board on Tuesday, July 31.

On Tuesday the county board also voted to make sure that proper lake testing is performed at Berger Lake and other bodies of water.