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Garfield Lake road decision debated

After nearly two years of wrangling, the Hart Lake Township board of supervisors has approved vacation and alteration of Pickerel Road on the northeast side of Garfield Lake.

The decision followed a contentious public hearing Monday afternoon with several area residents arguing against modifying a roadway with "historical value, built by the original pioneers that came to this country."

The petition to vacate was initiated by developers Joe Arndt and Jed Shaw of Walker who own the property. They have agreed to donate 3.4 acres, with 254 feet of sandy beach, contingent upon the rerouting of Pickerel Road.

The road would no longer run along the lake in front of six yet-to-be-developed residential lake lots, but would be routed behind the lots. The cost of the new road is to be absorbed by the developers.

The plan has met approval by the Hubbard County Board, the Department of Natural Resources, the county’s Parks and Recreation Department and Soil and Water Conservation District.

The developers have purchased wetland credits, SWCD director Julie Kingsley said after the meeting, but the agencies are waiting on a full restoration plan and road design specifications.

"The overall issue is the road has been there 80 to 100 years," Barry Babcock said at the hearing, likening development of lakes to a "cancer sweeping through the country. It’s a tragedy, all these developers on lakes," he said citing the ensuing decline in water quality and natural vegetation.

"Who here would say fishing is better than 20 years ago," he asked. "We’re turning this into a Lake Minnetonka. This is our heritage. And it’s being taken away from us."

The historic use – access to swimming and fishing – will be retained, said Sara Swanson, attorney for Shaw and Arndt. "And there were safety concerns with the road," she reminded residents.

A resident in favor of the proposal noted that without the agreement to vacate and alter Pickerel Road, residents could conceivably lose any access to the Garfield Lake beach, which will now be maintained by the county.

"Our lawyer told us this is a win, win situation," township chair Tom Lindahl told his constituents. "We will always have the beach." And a section of the road "always washes out," he noted.

Darrin Hoverson, area hydrologist, said he’s not opposed to the petition. "But I understand your passion.

"There will be a net benefit to the lake, while providing prior use," he said of the public beach.

Kay Sanders questioned if the wetlands will be maintained.

"We have documented wetland delineation," Arndt told her. "We can have a board walk over the wetlands."

"The swamp will remain as is," Lindahl assured them.

Hoverson pointed out Hubbard County’s standards addressing development on lakes are "higher than much of the state," praising the six-lot, single family development site plan.

The agreement calls for the lot to become a public beach, Hoverson noted, which was voluntary on part of the developers.

"Is this a done deal?" an audience member asked, requesting an extension to draft a petition in opposition.

Swanson, on behalf of her clients, asked the supervisors not to oblige the request.

"Where’s our attorney?" township residents asked. "You have multiple people here wanting to petition not to vacate."

The petitioners have presented support, Swanson said of an 11-signature document.

"This meeting isn’t about us developing the property," Shaw reminded the audience.

"We’re losing 900 feet of beach," a member of the audience said. "You’re throwing the beach away."

"You lost that when the property was sold," Lindahl said, asking for a motion from supervisors.

A member of the audience again asked for a 30-day extension on the decision.

"This has been going on long enough," Lindahl said, noting he receives phone calls and threats on the issue.

The motion passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Debbie Hadrava expressed frustration with the decision. "The road from Laporte to where it ends now is access for people to get to town for church and necessities," she said. "There were originally four resorts along that end of the lake. The road in each instance ran between the resort and the beach.

"People who buy places along a road shouldn’t complain afterward about the road or expect change, especially this one, with such historical value behind it," she said.

The township supervisors "have no idea what this means to people," she said, citing her husband and his family of seven siblings, who grew up in the area.

"Every night, all summer after working all day they would go to the lake. Many other families – farmers, loggers, etc. – all did the same thing. Laporte is a lower income area. This was cheap entertainment for all, using the lake."

She said lack of communication and transparency on the part of the supervisors has people feeling "blindsided and angry."

Hadrava said there have been meetings after meetings on leaving the road open.

"People thought it was done and the board did their job, not knowing this had all changed…"