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Lake access plan spurs controversy

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is hoping to expand the south public access on Detroit Lake -- and not everybody is happy about it.

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"This is a bigger lake in a populated area," David Schotzko, area supervisor for the DNR Parks & Trails Division, said. "And there's a pretty big muskie fishery in there as well, so there's a pent up demand for improved parking."

With Detroit Lake being pretty heavily populated already, he said finding another public access site is difficult, especially one that isn't in the wetlands and is big enough.

With the Highway 10 realignment, the parking on that end of the lake deceased even more.

"That exaggerated the problem on our other access; it pushed a lot of people over there," Schotzko said.

So, when the lot next to the existing landing went up for sale, it was the perfect fit to simply expand the existing landing. With the extra lot, too, there is plenty of room to create a vegetative buffer between the neighbors and the landing.

"The existing site that we have, that was developed years ago and stormwater was not really addressed, he said. "We went in there and put some pavement down, put the ramp in and left, so the water's not draining properly."

Schotzko said the site needs to be redone anyway, so the expansion makes sense at the same time.

"It made logical sense that this site came up right next to our other one, why not turn two into one rather than managing two sites?"

The timing was right with the availability of the lot because Schotzko said he gets complaints on the current lot crumbling with holes, and didn't want to sink any money into its repairs if the DNR was going to expand this landing anyway. For the last couple years, he said, he's just been maintaining the lot with patchwork.

"Looking into the likelihood that we would maybe buy this, I didn't want to stick a bunch of money into fixing the site and then rip it up in two years and redo it," he said. "That wouldn't be an efficient use of our money."

The public notice released by the DNR states that the DNR has obtained an option to purchase 1.1 acres of land owned by Gary and Pat Doele on South Shore Drive to expand the public water access.

"Proposed improvements would include a new and expanded bituminous parking area, a double concrete plank ramp with floating docks, and stormwater retention ponds to accommodate runoff. Provision would be mode for portable toilets."

A house with garage and shed on it are currently located on the property.

For now, Schotzko said the DNR is looking at the deed to make sure it's clean -- "just like when you buy a house."

The DNR is involved with several land purchases to expand landings, so the Detroit Lake one is nothing new.

"We've done a lot of these, and this one just seems to be a good fit for that site," he said.

Neighbors aren't happy

As for feedback on the proposed expansion, Schotzko said majority of the comments he's received have been positive. One group that is concerned is the Lake Detroiters Association, which is worried about the spread of flowering rush and other aquatic invasive species.

Lake Detroiter Association President Howard Hansen said when the organization takes a position on a subject, they look to their mission statement, which is to protect Detroit Lake.

"We are not opposed to the expansion of the access," he said, "but we're going to urge the DNR to take note that Detroit Lake is on the DNR list of infested waters.

"We're going to urge the DNR that any public access changes be designed with local input to ensure the inclusion of facilities that would do inspections or facilities that would do decontamination of boats using the access and any other appropriate prevention measures for AIS prevention."

Schotzko said the DNR knows that invasive plants are a growing problem and is trying to do what it can to stop the spread through signage and public education.

He said it's even harder because of so many private boats around the lake and restaurants like Long Bridge that have boat activity. That's where the public education comes in, not just signs at the DNR managed landings.

Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter also shared the comments she sent to Schotzko on the project. She addressed the invasive plants and stormwater treatment.

With the flowering rush and curlyleaf pondweed infestations near the landing, she questioned how the DNR plans to prevent the spread further.

"Will a boat washing station be installed? Will the DNR install cameras to record/document launching activities and strongly enforce AIS transport violations?" she asked. "What are your quantifiable outcomes for reducing AIS spread and management?

"Before any expansion occurs, AIS issues should be addressed and best management practices implemented," she said.

Project neighbors Fred Rusch and Gail McDougall said in a letter to the DNR that they are concerned about the added noise.

They said that being located next to a public access has not only decreased their home value, but that they have also been unable to sell their home because of its proximity to the landing.

"At 2 or 5 a.m., users are there causing a nuisance and disrupting the peace," their letter says. "If it were only the summer, spring and fall it would be bad enough, but during the winter, we have to put up with the snowmobile trail going right next to our bedroom window."

They proposed a solution, asking that the DNR buy houses on both sides of the public access and making an even larger buffer, putting up gates to close the landing from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and to increase police patrols "to control the drunks."

Guetter also questioned the surface coverage and shore impact.

"We (the Pelican River Watershed District) have worked with DNR ecological services on restoring shoreline at various locations on Detroit Lake. I would encourage the DNR to follow its own advice and restore the shore along the public access," she said.

Timeline for building

If all goes according to plan, the DNR plans to construct the expansion in 2012.

"We have a number of these going on."

On Strawberry Lake, Schotzko said the DNR bought a site adjacent to the public access with the same intention of expansion, but when it came time to design and fund the project, the DNR wasn't approved for the funding, so it'll have to wait at least another year.

"It's just a matter of priorities and funding," he said.

Step one is getting the property, though.

"Soon we'll know if we have to just redo the site as is or can we work with two sites," Schotzko said. "That's kind of where it's at right now."

Comments on the expansion will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. in Nov. 17 to David Schotzko, area supervisor, Department of Natural Resources, Parks & Trails Division, 3296 State Park Road NE, Bemidji, MN 56601 or david.schotzko@state.mn.us.

"We don't ignore those comments. We're not doing them just to be doing them," he assures. "We're interested in hearing if there are concerns. The majority of comments, by far, have been in favor of this improvement."

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