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Hubbard County commissioners favor watershed plan over lake improvement district for Belle Taine

The Hubbard County Board urges Belle Taine residents concerned about lake levels to get involved with the Crow Wing River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) planning committee.

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A portion of Lake Belle Taine at sunset.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise
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The Hubbard County Board urges Belle Taine residents concerned about lake levels to get involved with the Crow Wing River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) planning committee.

John Maczko, a Lake Belle Taine Association member, and fellow interested parties met with county commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 13 to gauge their interest in forming a lake improvement district (LID).

“As water height increases, there’s impacts not only to property, but also lake quality, and that’s a concern of all of us that live on the lake,” he said. “We have been exploring for two years what to do. Lake Belle Taine has a long history of having issues.”

Fluctuating levels

County commissioners Char Christenson inquired about an outlet that appears to have been closed and that potential impact.

Maczko said they only have a property owner’s affidavit as to where it was, but no timeline about its closure.

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“If you look at the geology and geography of the area, there seems to be a natural outlet that was there,” he said, adding Belle Taine’s levels are one of the most monitored in the state, according to the DNR.

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This chart indicates recorded water levels on Lake Belle Taine from July 1935 through July 2020.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Referring to a water level chart, Maczko noted there has been a 14-foot fluctuation. Experts agree that “the lake is going to continue to rise. It goes through wet cycles and dry cycles.” When Belle Taine’s levels do drop, he continued, it stays about a foot higher about every 15 years than it was before.

This affects commerce, Maczko continued, saying one resort no longer exists and Campers’ Paradise is threatened with closure now. “At Beauty Bay (Resort), there’s a cabin in the water.”

Belle Taine is at the bottom of the Mantrap chain of lakes. “Everything in the watershed drains to Belle Taine,” he said.

What is a LID?

According to the DNR, “A LID is a form of government that is subservient to the local government that established it, has no taxing powers of its own and is limited to just those authorities that the parent government gives to it. Most often, the parent government is a county. “The three primary reasons for their establishment are for the purpose of managing water quality, water level control and aquatic vegetation. … A LID allows for greater local involvement in lake management activities.”

Recognizing that community input is needed on any proposed Belle Taine project, Maczko said the lake association has been exploring the idea of a LID.

“There’s a number of them in the state that’s been successful,” he said, noting a LID is a means of establishing funding, garnering cooperation and having public outreach. It’s governed by a board of directors, and it involves the county “because any assessment that might be agreed to by the property owners needs to go through the county to be collected.”

There are 504 property owners on Belle Taine. More than half – 280 – are lake association members where about 100 of them support a LID, Maczko said.

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Maczko said they wish to work with the county toward a solution, which will take time and resources.

Crow Wing River Watershed

In late August, the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources awarded funding to the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and its partners to develop a 10-year, comprehensive management plan for the Crow Wing River Watershed.

The 1W1P is a 100-percent voluntary, watershed-based implementation plan that addresses local priorities. It uses existing science, identifies measurable goals and outlines how progress will be monitored.

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A map of the new Crow Wing River watershed district.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency map

The Crow Wing 1W1P district includes parts of nine counties. The largest chunks are in Hubbard, Becker, Wadena and Cass, with smaller portions in Todd, Crow Wing, Morrison, Clearwater and Otter Tail.

The Hubbard County SWCD is serving as the financial administrator of the planning grant.

According to the SWCD, the Crow Wing River Watershed covers around 48% of the county, with a grand total of 308,477 acres.

1W1Ps for Hubbard County’s other two watersheds – Leech Lake River and the Mississippi Headwaters – have already been approved and are in the implementation process.

1W1P is ‘the way to go’

All of the county commissioners cringed at the notion of creating another layer of government and another taxing district through the LID.

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County commissioner Tom Krueger said he will talk to SWCD to make sure some Belle Taine residents are seated on the 1W1P planning committee.

Krueger said, “Whatever is decided to do to drain Belle Taine, it’s gonna affect people downstream. I’m on 2nd Crow Wing Lake, so if you’re draining water into the Crow Wing chain it’s going to affect the lake I’m on. With the watershed plan, we’ve got the involvement of the entire watershed instead of just people in the LID making decisions on what to do.”

Board chair Ted Van Kempen agreed, saying, “I think the watershed plan is gonna be the way to go to help you folks because of all the things involved. I think the big thing is going to be financing.”

Maczko expressed concern that 1W1P funds will only go so far across the nine counties.

Van Kempen said 1W1P put money toward studies, which then makes grant funding possible.

County commissioner David De La Hunt summarized with this: “It’s a watershed problem, not a Belle Taine problem.”

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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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