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Signs like this have been placed on trees along County Road 37 in hopes of saving them from a pending road grading project. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Signs, signatures mount while road project moves ahead

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

As the acquisition of easements continues along Hubbard County 37 signs have popped up off the roadway, a testament to one of the county's longest and most bitterly fought projects.

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The grade work on the Natural Preservation Road that skirts the south side of Kabekona Lake will likely start sometime in July, county engineer Dave Olsonawski said.

"They've been there for a long time," the engineer said of the plastic signs tied around the trunks of various trees along the route. "Those are just residents that are having some fun."

Three of the most vocal opponents are Lawrence family siblings who own seasonal residences along the highway.

Among their litany of objections to the project are environmental, safety, cost and preservation arguments.

Sarah Lawrence, Tom Lawrence and Emily Lawrence Meyer presented impassioned arguments last month at the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners meeting, hoping one last hearing would persuade the board to undo the action it took approving the project.

The siblings and other opponents have vowed to stall the project by refusing to sell right-of-way for the widened road.

The siblings maintain widening the road will spoil the natural look of it, cause more runoff into the lake and create safety problems when motorists travel the paved roadway at much higher speeds than is prudent.

It now carries a 30 mph speed limit and likely would be the same after paving, highway officials said.

"We're closing, closing, closing (on easements), but still don't have them all yet," Olsonawski said. "We're real close."

Bids for the project have not been let.

"We probably wouldn't start until after July 4 so they could have their summer events and then start it after that," Olsonawski said of the project. "There's no reason to disrupt their summertime."

Grade work would take around 90 days, Olsonawski said. The plan calls for a bituminous overlay during the summer of 2012.

As of March 23, the opposition had gathered 101 signatures on a "Save Kabekona" website.

"Please don't widen Co Rd 37 and change the creek area by the road," wrote Patricia Hilker. "I enjoy the quietness of the area and a tarred road will increase the car speeds and make it like a highway. This will be a loss of trees and wildlife. Please protect the naturalness of the road and area."

Other opponents voiced a historical objection.

"My children are our family's fifth generation on Kabekona, and we are strongly opposed to the paving, widening, rerouting and reconstruction... Please preserve the safety and tranquility of our beloved lake community by halting the project," wrote Julia Henson Radley.

Another longtime resident wrote," I believe the new road would compromise all things I hold close to my heart at Kabekona - wildlife, community, safety, peace and quiet," said Amanda Ellig.

Despite that opposition, supporters packed the former Nary schoolhouse last fall at an informational meeting the Highway Department conducted to unveil its five-year road plan.

Supporters said they've been waiting for the roadwork for two decades.

Meanwhile, Olsonawski said one large tree that is wearing a sign exclaiming "Preserve This Tree!" would be saved on the southwest end of the project.

"There are trees we are going to be able to save, but some we aren't able to," he said.

The Lawrences say it's a waste of taxpayer money. The estimated $2 million is state and federal funds and could be spent on more critical projects, opponents say.

They worry the paved roadway will cause their property valuations to rise commensurately.

"Keep it safe, quiet and rustic," wrote Morris Wee on the "Save Kabekona" website. "We like it that way."

Eminent domain proceedings for the last easements begin this month.

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