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district 4 candidates John Bellefeuille, left, and Don Skarie speak during Tuesday's debate.

Differences stand out at county forum

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Detroit Lakes Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Four candidates squared off for two seats on the Becker County Board Monday evening at a candidate's forum in Detroit Lakes.

In District 4 it is incumbent John Bellefeuille versus challenger Don Skarie.

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In District 2 it is John Okeson and Cyndi Anderson.

Some areas of difference stood out:

Skarie, for example, is less supportive of the Detroit Mountain ski park plan than the others.

And Anderson is far more supportive of the White Earth Tribe's move towards retrocession than the other three candidates.

(White Earth wants the state of Minnesota to give up jurisdiction over tribal members, who would face tribal charges in a tribal court. The most serious crimes, like murder, would be prosecuted in federal court).

All four called for stronger enforcement of zoning laws, especially around lakes.

And all called for a balanced approach to the county's recreation plan, including trails for ATVs.

In part due to the need to keep Airport Road open, all four thought that, in the long term, it would be a good idea to move the city-county airport a few miles out of town.

Here are some selected snippets from the forum, which was hosted by the local League of Women Voters and sponsored by the Young Professionals of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce.

On whether or not to move the airport:

John Okeson: "I've had mixed emotions about that over the years. I still think we need to look long and hard at maybe moving the airport to a different location -- we may have to move it five or six miles away from the city. It's a big issue -- if you close off the road around the airport, it creates a lot of problems for a lot of people."

Don Skarie: "That's a tough issue -- a lot of people have a vested interest in where the airport is," he said. But because of issues with expanding the runway and closing Airport Road (the back road into the Walmart area), "probably in the long term the best solution is to move it."

Cyndi Anderson: "We need to be looking 25, 30, 40 years down the road ... will that be a compatible use for the land as the city continues to grow?" Any decision should be made based on facts and "not fueled by emotion or commitment to one way of thinking -- how will the community look if it stays where it's at, and how will the community look if it changes?"

John Bellefeuille: "I frankly wouldn't have any problem with moving the airport 10 or 15 minutes from Detroit Lakes." Because of FAA regulations regarding wetlands if would be difficult to locate it closer, he said. But cost considerations would also have come into play.

On the issue of a regional park and ski area at Detroit Mountain:

John Bellefeuille: "It could be very beneficial to the community as a whole, but it has to happen without being a burden to taxpayers. It will bring commerce in, it means economic development, and it's great for our youth -- but it can't be a money pit."

John Okeson: "I'm pretty much in favor of the county getting involved and making a regional park ... I see too many people leaving the area, going to other areas of the state for outside recreation. We should be able to capture some of those people."

The funding should come from donations and grants and not tax dollars, he said.

Don Skarie: "I have difficulty with the county getting involved with this for several reasons ... there are a lot of unanswered questions."

Such as who would run the ski operations if the nonprofit operation bows out in 10 or 15 years. And whether state grant money would have to be repaid if the property was sold.

"A ski area is something the county should not get involved in," he said.

Cyndi Anderson: "I'm in favor of this -- it's a good way to maximize economic development recreational opportunities ... We shouldn't say the county shouldn't have a role in this because it's difficult to determine what that should be -- I support moving forward on it until there's a reason not to ... it shouldn't be an undue burden on taxpayers, but we should recognize the opportunity."

League of Women Voters member Sharon Sinclair moderated the event.

The four candidates will meet again to talk about environmental and natural resource issues affecting Becker County at a League of Women Voters forum sponsored by the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations.

The forum will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 26 beginning at 7 p.m. in Room F108 at M-State in Detroit Lakes.

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