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Ribbon cutting ceremonies mark new era for lake property owners

State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen cut a red ribbon during a ceremony Thursday morning at the Little McDonald-Krebs-Paul (LMKP) pumping station on East Little McDonald Drive. Joining him were, from left, LMKP Chairman Jim Nigg, Otter Tail County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, Department of Natural Resources Inspector Pat Lynch, Otter Tail County Commissioner Doug Huebsch, State Representative Larry "Bud" Nornes and Jeana Nelson, representing the Devils Lake group. Brian Hansel/FOCUS

Property owners on four lakes west off Perham may have finally found a way to live with Mother Nature.

Ribbon cutting ceremonies were held at two venting stations Thursday morning - stations that are designed to pump excess water from the lakes into the Otter Tail River.

The larger of the two stations draws water out of Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul Lakes. The $7.6 million pumping station for those three lakes is located on East Little McDonald Drive. Water is drawn from Devils Lake with a $2.4 million pumping station. The total cost of the two projects is $11.3 million. The state legislature found $10 million leaving $1.3 million assessable to lake property owners,

Jim Nigg, who is chairman of the Little McDonald-Kerbs-Paul (LMKP) Lake Improvement District, recalls the problem his group has been wrestling with started in the 1990’s. For a reason no one has been able to completely explain, the water in the three lakes started to rise. Nigg remembers on Aug. 2, 2011, when it was 54 inches above the ordinary high water mark. People were using their retirement savings in an attempt to save their property. Fred Bauch had to abandon his lake home and build on higher ground. Others remember vehicles driving through standing water on East Little McDonald Drive.

Angela Willenbring was one of the lakeshore owners who sat down to brainstorm the problem.

“We wanted to find a solution to help everyone on the lakes,” Willenbring said. “We were looking under every rock for money.”

What the brainstormers finally decided was that the water really belonged to the state of Minnesota.

Their game plan started to take shape when they appealed to State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen and State Representative Larry “Bud” Nornes. The two men were given a tour of the lakes and agreed something had to be done. Each took the case to their respective branches of the legislature.

“They were fantastic,” Willenbring said.

By the time the lake groups bussed 100 people down to St. Paul to testify about their problems, they had made a video. With the proof right in front of them, Willenbring said the legislative response was “tremendous.”

The two lake groups started working together after the LMKP route to the Otter Tail River, five miles away, was blocked by the discovery of a Native American habitation site. The Devils Lake group, headed by Jeana Nelson, had a route that was not encumbered.

The Department of Natural Resources had to be consulted before the legislature could move. That hurdle was also passed. Now that the venting stations are up and running, they are controlled by Otter Tail County.

“It’s a public works project and it's for the good of the people,” Nigg said.