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Beltrami County Board: Resorter ordered to restore wetlands

The Beltrami County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to require Sunset Cove Resort owners to remove a road through the shoreland area of Cass Lake and restore the wetland.

Resorters Al Ruzek and Jonathon Low applied for an after-the-fact permit for the road, which crosses a 14-acre wetland and covers 37,941 square feet with fill.

The County Board voted to deny the permit, ratifying the recommendations of the county's Technical Evaluation Panel.

Bill Stocker, a professional engineer, spoke in support of the resorters saying the road did not dam the wetland or change its function.

However, the TEP members - Bill Best of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, Chris Parthun of the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District and William Patnaude, director of Beltrami County Environmental Services - maintained that the road violates the Beltrami County Wetland Conservation Ordinance and does indeed interfere with the wetland function.

Their findings of fact from their site visit note that the road has degraded such wetland functions as floodwater retention, groundwater recharge, aesthetics and recreation and wildlife and fisheries habitats.

Stocker explained that Sunset Cove Resort in Ten Lake Township on the south side of Cass Lake consists of 80 acres in three sections: a traditional resort with cabins, a trailer and recreational vehicle park, and an upland section the owners want to develop as residential lots. The property is also served by a road through the trailer park, but Ruzek said it is too curvy to allow the development he and Low plan.

Patnaude said the road is well built, but "It's in the wrong place. It shouldn't have been built on a wetland."

He said the Wetland Conservation Ordinance is based on the premises of "avoidance, minimize, mitigate" in disturbing wetlands. He said people often want to go ahead with their developments, skip the first two steps and then look for a way to mitigate the damage.

"All applications are taken through the sequencing," Patnaude said. "I don't see the reason that the road would stay."

He added that if Ruzek and Low had requested a permit before they built the road, it wouldn't have been approved.

County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick offered the interpretation that it is easier to ask forgiveness after the fact than ask permission beforehand.

Before taking the vote, board members listened for an hour and a half to testimony from Ruzek and Stocker in support of the after-the-fact permit and members of the TEP with the recommendation to deny it.

The board members agreed that they must uphold the Wetland Conservation ordinance consistently and that similar cases are likely to arise in the future.

The result is that the resorters must work with the TEP and the Wetlands Technical Advisory Panel to restore the site to its pre-2001 condition.