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County approves ordinance amendment despite objections

The Hubbard County Board held consecutive public hearings Tuesday for two proposed county ordinances: a new buffer ordinance and an amendment to watercraft speeds on First, Second and Third Crow Wing lakes.

Two lakeshore owners took issue with the county, citing a lack of public notice about the proposed amendment.

Last fall, County Sheriff Cory Aukes asked county commissioners to remove language from Ordinance No. 10 which restricts watercraft speeds to less than 15 mph between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m on the three lakes. The ordinance was written in 1978.

"There's no public safety reason for this law," Aukes said Tuesday. "Why have something on the books if it's not a valid purpose?"

If the ordinance simply provides peace and tranquility for lakeshore owners, that is unfair for everyone else who wishes to use the public lakes, he continued.

"Basically, we're looking at dropping the 15 mph speed limit and treating those three lakes like all lakes in Hubbard County," Aukes said.

Furthermore, Aukes said he pulled records from the last five or six years and found about one complaint per year.

Ron Klaphake lives on Third Crow Wing Lake. He spoke at the hearing. Two years ago, he said, the realtor told him about the reduced boat speed limit when he was looking to purchase a home.

"One of the things that made me attracted to that particular property was the fact that there was some time my wife could go out in a kayak without being afraid of someone running over her or my grandkids could go out with paddle boats," Klaphake said. "There is an issue of safety sometimes. But that isn't my issue. My issue is that it's the middle of winter. I live in an area where there are 10 properties. I'm the only full-time person up there."

Other than his neighbor, who sent a letter to County Commissioner Ed Smith, Klaphake said no other property owners were aware of the proposed amendment.

"I think you owe it to them to have a meeting where they can also know about it and explain it to them," Klaphake said. "I do know that your notices appear in a Nevis newspaper, which isn't the most widely circulated paper in the county. If it hadn't been the fact I read it in a story in the Park Rapids paper, I wouldn't have known about it."

Klaphake asked the board to set the amendment aside until June.

"I think these people pay lot of taxes around these lakes. Some of us pay higher taxes because we're on the water. And yes, you're absolutely right. It's public water. We have no more rights to it than anybody else, but you're making a change," Klaphake said. "I am certain — as a former elected public official myself, as a former city court judge, as a former city manager — you err on the side of notifying people."

Given the opportunity to hear the rationale and to respond, Klaphake said lakeshore owners will be "right and fair, but you need to be right and fair so they know about things when you're changing them."

Smith read a letter he received into the record.

Kevin Jaime Pieper wrote, "A number of full-time residents were unaware of meetings due to the official paper of the board being a paper of low circulation. Further, it is counterintuitive that the board would not use the paper from the county seat. This should be changed at the next county organizational meeting."

Pieper has owned property on Third Crow Wing since 2004.

"The vast majority of property owners are aware of the ordinance, and everyone I talked to is in support of it remaining in place," he wrote. "I can attest it is even more important today. In recent year, we've seen a sharp increase in a number of boats with large horsepower."

Pieper stated he has observed violators speeding at twilight hours. He also expressed concern about the sheriff publicly stating an ordinance cannot be enforced.

County Commissioner Char Christensen asked Hubbard County Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf about the county protocol for notifying adjacent property owners.

No, it's not required by statute, Buitenwerf replied. "In a case like this, where it's a public water body, there's people outside the county that use the lake as well. It'd be challenging to identify all those parties and try to send individualized notice.

Christensen said she, too, was concerned there's a non-enforceable ordinance on the books. She asked Aukes what equipment and staff would be needed.

"We have a couple hundred lakes. In all reality, just like a highway, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time," Aukes said. "You have a law that is making legal activity illegal. This ordinance outlaws legal activity."

If there was a public safety issue, Aukes said there would be a speed limit on all lakes "and we don't."

Christensen said, "Whether we act now or wait until June, the notification process will not be different."

"We've done what we have to do," agreed Board Chair Cal Johannsen, adding that the county's official newspaper is selected based on cheapest advertising rates.

The amendment was approved 4-0. County Commissioner Dan Stacey was absent.

Buffer ordinance

The board approved the new county buffer ordinance.

The state Legislature passed the law requiring the buffers along lakes, rivers, streams and ditches in 2015 and updated it in 2016.

The law defines a buffer as an establishment of perennial vegetation up to 50 feet along any public waters and up to 16.5 feet along any public ditches. All buffers are to be installed on public waters by Nov. 1, 2017 and on public ditches by Nov.1, 2018.

Hubbard Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) can assist landowners in complying with the Minnesota Buffer Initiative, which requires the implementation of buffers and/or alternative, water-quality practices.

Buitenwerf noted the majority of water bodies affected by the buffer law are already encompassed in the county's shoreland ordinance jurisdictional area, which requires permanent vegetation in the shore impact zone.

Two resort owners called County Commissioner Vern Massie concerned about the proposed countywide buffer ordinance.

Lakeshore property owners need not worry about the buffer law if they are in compliance with county/local shoreline ordinances and the DNR statewide regulations.

Last fall, SWCD reported that 99 percent of all parcels adjacent to Minnesota waters within Hubbard County meet preliminary compliance with the law.

Having scanned SWCD's aerial survey along Straight River where there is significant agricultural activity, Buitenwerf said, "I found the buffer to be present well in excess of what's required, so I don't really seeing this being a big issue."

The board approved the ordinance 3-1, with Massie opposed.

In related business, the county board did as follows:

• Met Assistant Environmental Services Director Bryan Haugen, who began his new duties on Feb. 20.

• Approved the purchase and installation of standard equipment for three 2018 squad cars, totaling $34,007.

• Approved a $12,456 quote (state contract pricing) from Dell, Inc. for four laptops.

• Accepted resignation of dispatcher/jailers Ralph Goodman, effective Feb. 21, and Eric Oswald, effective March 5.

• Approved unpaid educational leave of absence, per Personnel Policy Section 15, for dispatcher/jailer Adam Goochey.