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DNR's request for land at East Lost Lake gets a second look

Two county board members, along with representatives of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resoruces, met with members of the county conservation committee and others on July 25 concerning the DNR's request to purchase property at the west end of East Lost Lake.

The county board had previously denied the request, which would have resulted in the establishment of an Aquatic Management Area.

Board members have now said, however, that they will revisit the issue after the DNR submits a one-page summary highlighting the habitat assets, including use of the land by the general public.

Board members Wayne Johnson and Doug Huebsch, during the informal gathering in Perham, said that more information is needed before the board can reconsider its previous decision.

"It's good to hear that the detailed information will be provided to the county board, so that members can make an informed decision," said conservation committee co-chair Les Bench.

One reason the county board initially denied the DNR's request concerned PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) payments to the county if the land at East Lost Lake were to be sold to the DNR. The board believed at the time that PILT payments would be less than what private individuals pay.

This matter was clarified at the gathering in Perham.

Dave Thompson, owner of Fisherman's Village Resort, said Otter Tail County receives PILT payments that, overall, exceed property taxes by more than five percent. This information comes from the Legislative Auditor's Report. A PILT payment for the East Lost Lake property is not known at this time since the purchase price is still not public information.

"Having this piece of property become public land will have a positive impact on tourism for Otter Tail County," said Thompson.

He said that Arlin Schalekamp, DNR fisheries, and Melody Webb, DNR parks, did an excellent job at the Perham gathering of explaining the potential habitat benefits of the Aquatic Management Area and the potential water access improvements to the public. 

County commissioners had stated at a previous meeting that they are believers in land conservation and understand the need for public lands for lake access, animal habitat, hunting, etc. However, they also asked at what point is there enough land in the public sector.

Diane Sineps, who owns land at the southwest side of East Lost Lake, spoke in favor of establishment of an Aquatic Management Area.

"This purchase (by the DNR) would save the toppling of trees we lovingly planted, would keep from disrupting the habitat or scattering of wildlife and would help preserve water quality," said Sineps. "Fishermen and families, who come from all over to stay at nearby resorts, would still find bass and hear the call of the loon."

Members of the conservation committee agreed that a cooperative effort is the goal, for the common good. They cited the many benefits from state legacy (sales tax) receipts being used for conservation efforts such as Aquatic Management Areas.

"PILT payments to counties are in the ballpark (comparable) to what many private landowners are paying," said retired DNR employee Terry Lejcher. "The DNR always has wanted to pay its fair share so that counties are justly compensated."

Attendees at the gathering in Perham also pledged to work in association with townships whenever Aquatic Management Areas are established.