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Preservation or progress: County 37 project

County Road 37 is scheduled for grading and eventual paving on the south side of Kabekona Lake. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

What has become a polarizing disagreement among 87 Kabekona Lake residents pits progress versus preservation.

The upcoming County 37 resurfacing project, slated to begin in 2011, has caused a bitter split among those opposed to widening and those who feel it would be safer to pave and refinish the road surface.

County 37 is a Natural Preservation Road that runs along the south shore of Kabekona Lake. The 4.7-mile project would run from Highway 64 east to County Road 39.

Many members of both sides gathered Wednesday at the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners meeting.

No one said a word during the proceedings.

Both sides were under the mistaken impression the board would discuss the project again.

Board members already did that, at a June construction meeting at Helga Township Hall, in which the county unveiled its five-year road plan.

Wednesday all the board approved was for the county to begin acquiring the right-of-way necessary for the project.

And that made many residents unhappy that had driven an hour to the board meeting to go away empty-handed and closed mouthed.

"We didn't understand we were supposed to address it" during the public input portion of the meeting, said Emily Meyer whose family is vehemently opposed to what she called the "environmental devastation" construction would cause to the area.

Since the matter was on the Public Works portion of the board agenda, opponents thought that was the time to voice their opposition.

It is a project many years in the making, residents said in June.

"We're scheduling it for next year unless we don't get any state aid dollars but we've never not gotten them," said county engineer Dave Olsonawski. "It's scheduled for next year as long as we get through all the easements and right-of-way purchases.

"The resolution gives us permission to go direct negotiations or the eminent domain proceedings. Hopefully we don't have to do that," he said.

Aside from the environmental concerns, the family questions whether the road will itself become a safety hazard.

"Instead of going 30 they'll go 50," said Maddy Lawrence, Meyer's mother.

"They'll go 65," Meyer corrected her.

"Kabekona is one of the gems of this state," Meyer said. The current county maintenance plan of grading and applying calcium chloride seems to be working, she said.

But some proponents worry that the salt brine could wash into the lake, posing potential environmental harm over time.

"I'm hoping it can finally be resolved and put to rest," said seasonal homeowner Milan Davig. He said the dissent has pitted neighbors against neighbors.

"The country is already so polarized," he said. His small universe doesn't need to mirror that trend, he added.

"It's a paved section with 11-foot driving lanes with a four-foot shoulder with three feet of the shoulders paved for walking or biking," Olsonawswki said of the design.

"The top surface will be 15 feet on one side so you're looking at 30 feet total," he added.

"We designed it for 30 miles an hours, the curves and the horizontals are," Olsonawski said. "So there will be some advisory speeds on there for 30 (mph) but I would imagine MNDOT will do a speed study through there when we get it all completely done."

The dissent has also been a source of concern for county board chair Lyle Robinson's constituency.

The entire widening will be less than 60 feet, including tree clearing, he said.

"You cannot run government if you have to have 100 percent approval," he said. The plans for County 37 have been revised numerous times to pacify the opposition, he maintained.

"We've agreed not to go lakeward," Robinson said of the project. "They're leaving from the tree line to the end of the property line undisturbed. We have accommodated them in any way except not doing it."

"There's some areas where we'll cut through some hills and the trees will be cleared back but the road isn't going to be any wider or different," Olsonawski said.

"The grading will take place next summer," Olsonawski said. "We won't do the paving and base material probably until the following year or maybe 2013."

The Lawrence/Meyer family said, "Tarring will pollute the lake," as contaminated water pours off the impervious surface into the shoreline.

But Robinson said "almost all roads are higher than the lake" and the potential for runoff exists everywhere.

The family and other opponents say they will refuse to sell their property for the right-of-way, hoping an eminent domain proceeding will further stall the project.

Robinson meanwhile criticizes the hypocrisy he claims is coming from some residents opposed to the project.

"One guy lives in a log cabin," Robinson noted. "He's got more trees in that house than we'll ever take down."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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