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Hubbard County blesses bid for 2013 Governor's Opener

This is a rough sketch of how Laporte would be transformed if a multi-governmental agency partnership can be harnessed. The development plans envision a stopoff or starting destination point for Paul Bunyan Trail users, locals and visitors passing through town. (Conceptual drawing)

A trailhead park with gazebos and a picnic area is a wonderful idea for Laporte, but just not in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

That was the consensus of the Hubbard County board Wednesday when Laporte Mayor Craig Mackey and Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Director David Collins asked the board to move the project forward from a conceptual drawing.

At the present time, the DNR owns the property in downtown Laporte and built a $60,000 parking lot for Paul Bunyan Trail users this summer.

"The partnerships we've had with the state come back to bite us," commissioner Lyle Robinson said. "They've been an unreliable partner. Can they turn it over to the city or county?" he asked of the land.

"You'll build it, you'll maintain it and they'll own it," commissioner Dick Devine said to Mackey. "We need to get control of the land."

The board authorized the county engineering staff to turn the conceptual plan into a complete design. It envisions two more stages of development at a cost of around $154,000.

A fourth stage of an adjacent housing development would be in the distant future, backers say.

Several entities are involved and gave expressed a willingness to help. Former Nevis Mayor Dave McCurnin is spearheading a fund drive to find donors. Matching funds may be available, Collins told the county board.

It's just the DNR involvement that troubles commissioners, so they agreed to open channels of communication with that agency to buy the land outright or trade a piece of equal valued land for it.

Robinson is highly critical of the way the agency spends money and began counting parking spaces in the new lot.

"Thirteen parking spaces for $60,000. A partner like them we do not need," he said.

DNR officials had not responded to a request for a comment by the time the Enterprise went to press Friday.

In other business, the board:

n Endorsed a quest by the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce to bid for the Governor's Fishing Opener in 2013.

Park Rapids was encouraged by Gov. Dayton to bid again when its bid for the 2012 opener was not successful this spring, chamber director Katie Magozzi said. Now that the area has finished six years of road construction and the downtown has been completed, it's the perfect time to re-bid.

The original application can simply be refreshed with letters of support, she said.

"It's a marvelous thing," she told the board. "It's quite an undertaking for a community" but well worth it.

"There's not a community who did this that didn't come out with money left over" for advertising and promotion, she said.

Magozzi said the recent government shutdown had a $1.5 million impact on the Park Rapids area in lost revenues, "not to mention the fishing debacle."

Confusion over whether out-of-state visitors could obtain fishing licenses led some groups to cancel local resort reservations.

And Magozzi supported an eventual Heartland Trail extension to Itasca State Park using Hubbard County forfeited lands. Plans to extend the trail to Moorhead have been in the works for years. Magozzi said it's not an "either-or" push. Both trails can be built.

But with no issues over land acquisition in Hubbard County, it makes sense to explore a safer route to the park, she said.

Just this week a female bicyclist was critically injured when she lost control on the rumble strip of the Highway 71 shoulder north of Park Rapids and crashed.

Commissioners and Magozzi agreed the highway shoulder isn't safe for bike traffic.

"Our goal is to be the bike capital of the United States," Magozzi said. "We're well on our way."

n Tabled a request by Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier to place gates on two parcels of tax-forfeited lands until more information is known.

Lohmeier said problems with four-wheelers necessitated "closing off sensitive grounds."

"It's important to have public space used by the public," commissioner Kathy Grell said.

Commissioners said they have received numerous complaints of public lands gated off, especially when deer season opens.

n Acknowledged a levy request by the Housing and Redevelopment Authority for a levy request of $230,000. This year HRA and the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission have essentially combined to pool levy monies. Before this year HCREDC received a $30,000 allocation from the county's general fund. The financial arrangement is revenue neutral for the county and the two entities have pooled their resources and ability to find jobs and housing for employees.

n Acknowledged a significant drop in requests for income maintenance and the process of intakes, initial requests for assistance.

"This may be a harbinger of good things," Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said.

Caseloads per worker have declined slightly, which helps the employee stress level.

But Hubbard County will continue to be a MN Care eligibility site because Bessler said county employees can process the forms and give better service than the state.

Bessler said the state shutdown caused some uncertainty as to whether the state would renew that contract with the county, but he said he's been assured the state will renew the contract retroactive to July 1.

n Amended the shoreland ordinance to include churches as a conditional use on general development and recreational lakes. Churches will be a non-permitted use on other water classifications. The move is intended to allow a Nevis congregation to facilitate the purchase of the Velvet Antler building, which burned last year and closed.

The council sent two more proposed ordinance language changes back to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation. Ordinarily, the church language would have gone that path, but the board wanted to expedite the matter before the Velvet Antler sale fell through.

The board also approved a final plat of Little Sand Bay Villas, a residential planned unit development that was formerly the Northern Star resort.

n Adopted a "Stop and Remember" resolution to observe the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings and loss of life.

n Took under advisement a request by the Hubbard County Historical Society to increase its allocation for 2012.

Chronic mold problems in the old courthouse, where the society and Nemeth Art Museum are housed, and repairs and upkeep on the building are constant and growing, society board members said.

The courthouse is not handicapped accessible, so that prevents many elderly and handicapped persons from enjoying the exhibits. The cost to install an elevator would be $150,000, members told the county board.

Sarah Smith

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

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