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Trail update meeting gets heated

Tammy Ziegler called the Perham to Pelican Rapids Regional Trail "totally ridiculous" at a status update meeting on Thursday, June 13th. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS)

Frustrated residents clashed with Otter Tail County officials Thursday night, June 13, at a status update meeting in the Dent Community Center for the Perham to Pelican Rapids Regional Trail.

The meeting drew a crowd of about 60 people with only a few people voicing support in favor of the project.

Nearly all of the residents who spoke during public comment voiced their frustration with how the project has been pushed through without public support.

Tammy Ziegler called it "totally ridiculous" to build a bike trail no one wanted, especially considering the conditions of the roads, she said.

Joel Gorentz, a dairy farmer who lives south of McDonald Lake, said he's barely getting by, and probably won't be in business in another five years because of projects like this.

"I don't do anything. All I do is work," Gorentz said.

Many others were angry about how the county has handled the right-of-way process, contending they haven't heard from the county regarding an offer.

County Engineer Chuck Grotte repeatedly said the project—estimated at a cost of $14.2 million—can't proceed until everybody involved has been made an offer for their land. Grotte said the county tries to make fair and reasonable offers, but if the county and land owners don't agree, the county reserves the right to seize land for trail projects.

When Grotte was asked why it's taken so long to acquire the necessary permits, he responded all the involved government agencies are on board, but it will take time to process all the paperwork. Grotted added the county has never not recieved a permit they've applied for.

Rick Snelgrove of Perham asked if there was proof of the public wanting a bike trail. He called it "fictitious" that anyone would use the trail, especially during Minnesota's short window of suitable weather.

Not all residents were against the plan.

The first resident to speak during the Q&A period was Kim Paul. Paul said he's repeatedly used the Heartland Trail near Park Rapids, and sensed that trail has been a positive thing for the area.

Kate Martinez, chairwoman of the Pelican Rapids Park Board and an art teacher, said she was really excited about the trail providing healthy living and promoting tourism. She also thanked everyone that has to give up their property for the trail project.

"I greatly appreciate your sacrifice," she said.

Before the public discussion, landscape architect Mike McGarvey from SRF Consulting provided a brief update about the trail project.

The trail project is broken into five segments, including a portion running through Maplewood State Park. The only segment that's being actively designed and planned is the East Segment which runs from Perham to McDonald Lake. The overall project is expected to cost $14.2 million.

Construction of the East Segment is expected to begin this fall or next spring. Going forward, the next step is the Silent Lake and McDonald Lake Segment design, with construction planned in 2020-22.

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