Hubbard County is accepting written comments about the proposed discontinuation of cabin leases on county tax-forfeited land.
County Land Commissioner Chip Lohmeier, County Assessor Ginger Woodrum and County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Rave have recommended sunsetting the lease program by Dec. 31, 2029.
On June 18, the county board approved sending a letter to current leaseholders about the proposed changes and holding a 30-day public comment period.
There are currently 49 recreational cabin leases in Hubbard County. County officials are questioning the perennial transfer of cabin leases from generation to generation. Some of the leases date to the 1950s.
The proposed new policy would not allow any name transfers outside of lessees named on the final lease agreement. If a cabin lease expires prior to 2029, it would not be renewed. All personal property would have to be removed within nine months of the lease's termination or cancellation. Any removal or restoration costs incurred by the county would be reimbursed by the lessee.
The annual lease fee would also increase from $300 to $500, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
County Commissioner Char Christenson said she had received one phone call in support of ending the lease program. The caller described it as "an entitlement program because it's not equal and fair to everybody in the public," Christensen said.
The original intention of the lease program, begun in the 1950s, was to provide access to public lands, Lohmeier said. Access is no longer an issue today, he explained, thanks to forest roads, parking, four-wheel-drive vehicles and ATVs. "We are seeing a large number of people utilizing these woods throughout the year, not only for hunting, but berry picking and sightseeing and walking," he said.
County commissioner David De La Hunt asked if eliminating the lease program would impact hunting and the economy.
No, Lohmeier said, because hunters can still hunt on county land. By allowing cabins on TFL, he continued, it takes away business from local resorts and hotels.
"Outside of fairness of access and recording the lease, what other reasons would there be to end the program besides those two?" De La Hunt asked.
"Preemptive use" of TFL is a concern, Lohmeier said. "Is it prohibiting other people from using those very same lands?" A small number of leaseholders have blocked roads and chased people out of public lands, he noted.
"If there are issues, wouldn't it just be easier to end the lease?" De La Hunt asked.
Lohmeier said that has been done in the past.
County commissioner Tom Krueger said public land should be available for multiple uses. "It should be available to the general public," he continued, but the lease program "becomes a little possessive," with leases staying in a family for generation after generation.
If cabin leases are continued, Krueger said he'd prefer to see an open bid system "so more people can get use of land."
Three current leaseholders attended the June 18 meeting and were given an opportunity to speak to the board.
Mark Peterson said his friend's father started a camp on Halvorson Trail in the 1960s. "My father started one back in the 60s on Sawyer Lake. They've all passed. We represent second, third and fourth generations using these sites. They are improvements to the county, " he said, adding that sunsetting the program and "making us destroy the buildings is nearly impossible." "We've never harassed anyone wanting to hunt near or by the property," Peterson continued. "We want to continue leasing the property. . .We've done nothing wrong for 60 years."
Dennis Diedrich, who also has a lease on Halvorson Trail, said his family has been there since 1970. Diedrich said they mow and trim, adding, "It looks better than a lot of homes in the surrounding area."
"We've put blood, sweat, tears and money into building it. We've done a lot out there," Diedrich said, noting it was built to stay and there's "pride of ownership."
He said they see very few people walking past their deer stands and have never chased anyone out. Four members of his hunting party pay for out-of-state hunting licenses.
He asked the board to relook at their plan and "forget about sunsetting."
In related business, the board did as follows:
• Approved the low bid of $1,216,832 from Central Specialties Inc. of Alexandria for a CSAH 1 project from city limits to CSAH 18.
• Approved a proposed detour agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) along CSAH 16 and 45 while grading and paving is done on State Hwy. 200. The state will pay the county $5,515 for "road life consumed."
• Approved the low quote of $2,828 from Gladen Construction, Inc. of Laporte for the removal of a temporary approach on Hwy. 200 and salvage culvert.
• Accepted a MnDOT $44,922 grant for the Hendrickson Township Local Road Improvement Program regarding Old Cemetery Road.
• Approved timber appraisal reports for July 8 timber auction. The 17 parcels, at 633.5 acres, was valued at $230,049.
• Accepted a $10,000 Conservation Partners Legacy Grant for the Rose Creek Deer Project. Funds will be used to improve habitat for fish, game and wildlife.
• Approved the removal of certain tracts between Deer Lake and Shallow Lake from the Sept. 20 land auction, to consider the Minnesota DNR using the properties for its aquatic program management.
• Approved the Solid Waste Administrator's application to serve on two groups being formed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to address improvements to construction and demolition debris landfills.
• Approved a Grant-In-Aid Trail permit, for the period Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2028, for the Two Inlets Snowmobile Trail System.
• Approved a right-of-way utility easement for Itasca-Mantrap Co-op Electrical Association, across tax-forfeited land in Section 14 in White Oak Township.
• Approved an amendment to a right-of-way and easement grant and a temporary workspace agreement with Enbridge Energy in Lake Hattie Township and a temporary access road lease in Straight River Township to Enbridge Energy.