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Otter Tail County commission nixes environmental study for Loon Lake Resort expansion

Neighbors had petitioned the state for a deeper look at the environmental consequences of the resort's plan to more than double its rental units.

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A resort expansion project near Vergas will not have to undergo an environmental study, Otter Tail County commissioners decided at their Dec. 14 meeting.

Neighbors opposing the expansion at Loon Lake Resort had petitioned for a review through the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, citing concerns about the number of proposed campsites, degradation of wetlands, invasive species, over-development, too much boat traffic, and water quality.

Commissioners dismissed their objections, saying that many of the sites will sit farther back from the lake and are well within the number allowed by state and local shoreland requirements. Loon Lake is already infested with zebra mussels, they pointed out, and the county is not about to start policing the number of boats allowed in a lake, given the county's numerous lakes.

The county had already forced the resort, at 32053 Loon Drive in Candor Township, to limit its expansion. The resort had sought a total of 47 dock slips, but the county limited it to the existing 31. It plans to add 48 housing units, which would bring the total housing units to 70.

Opponents said they realized the county didn't have to conduct an Environmental Assessment Worksheet because it didn't meet the threshold of 50 new units. However, their petition said that the total of new and old campsites would exceed the 50 required for a mandatory environmental assessment.

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Their petition cited Minnesota case law in allowing local government to consider existing units when deciding to order an environmental review for a proposed expansion.

"The entirety of the development must be considered and the cumulative impacts of the increasing pressure on the lakeshore and on the public resources," the petition said.

Tami Norgard, a Fargo attorney representing the neighbors, said development could worsen algae problems on the lake, and that the algae problems indicate that the wetlands are already taxed to the limit and unable to filter out contaminants and excessive nutrients. However, Land and Resource Manager Chris LeClair maintained that it was heat, not development, that caused algae blooms, and that he has seen many photos from throughout the year that indicated no algae.

"This is not a location for the county to allow additional density, exacerbating what is already obviously a problem," the petition said. "The increased development will further reduce the functionality of wetlands. The increased boating intensity will have an effect on the shallow bay areas of Loon Lake, which will impact water quality and spawning of various fish species."

Loon Lake consists of five sub-lakes connected by narrow channels, as well as two shallow bays. One of the sub-lakes, East Loon, contains five islands. Its shape gives it as much shoreline, yet neighbors say it has less boatable surface.

"Loon Lake is not remotely like Pelican Lake, Otter Tail Lake, Detroit Lakes or Cormorant, that can all handle more significant number of recreational boats," their petition said. "It is startling to realize that there are similar amounts of developable shoreline on Loon Lake as these other lakes, yet Loon Lake has a small fraction of the actual boatable surface area on the lake given the many undulations in and out of bays and narrow passageways."

For instance, Loon Lake has 1,048 acres and 17 miles of shoreline, while Otter Tail Lake has 13,725 acres and nearly 22 miles of shoreline and Rush Lake has 5,275 acres of water and just under 16 miles of shoreline.

However, Commissioner Wayne Johnson said he felt that the shape of the lake would inhibit development, as the shoreline would create pie pieces of land less suitable for building.

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The petitioners requested a boat study, which they felt would indicate Loon Lake could not support a large development. However, commissioners said it is beyond their ability to limit the number of boats on any lake, given that the county has more than 1,000 lakes.

"In a county with over 1,000 lakes, that elevates that impracticality even further," said Commissioner Kurt Mortenson.

Fingerprinting costs rise

Fingerprinting through the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office will cost more. After Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons told commissioners that costs associated with the practice had risen, they agreed to raise the price from $15 to $20. Pre-employment teachers and social workers, and out-of-state gun permit applicants, are among those who get fingerprinted. Fitzgibbons said his office does about 20 fingerprints a week.

Support for Pelican Rapids swimming pool

Commissioners will support Pelican Rapids in its request for a state grant to build a new swimming pool. The current pool leaks 1,000 gallons of water a day, Johnson told commissioners. The city has raised $2.6 million locally for the new pool. Commissioners will send a letter to the state supporting the city's request for grant funding.

Related Topics: OTTER TAIL COUNTY
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