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Patrolling the Ottertail

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Though the water may not be warm yet, the Becker County Board room was a little heated Tuesday morning when it came to granting tubing licenses.

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Owners for two tubing operations on the Ottertail River, Charlie’s Tubing and K&K Tubing, applied for licenses for this summer’s business, but the county only approved Charlie’s Tubing license for now.

Last season the county enforced more stringent regulations for the tubing operations, trying to crack down on underage drinking on the river. Law enforcement also had a much stronger presence along the river, which both business owners said cut into their profits for the season.

“We will gladly give up a third of the business to have it like it was last year,” Cathy Pihlaja, owner of Charlie’s Tubing, said.

“We’re good with families and church groups,” she said. “We did not worry about fights, we did not have our coolers taken.”

K&K Tubing owner Roger Klemm did not agree.

Sheriff Kelly Shannon said that Charlie’s Tubing cooperated with law enforcement all summer, but K&K Tubing did not. He said this year he wants more cooperation from Klemm before granting the license.

He said that Klemm complained all summer about the law enforcement presence along the river, but the neighbors were happy to see them.

When commissioners questioned if he thought Charlie’s Tubing should be granted a license but not K&K Tubing, Shannon said, “I would rather have total cooperation from both companies.”

He added that he doesn’t want anyone to be run out of business, but he wants Klemm to run a cleaner business this season, too.

Pihlaja said that Klemm has never followed any rules that the county has imposed. She also said that the river was broken into three sections and the then three operating businesses (Ed’s River Run has since closed) were expected to each keep a section clean.

Pihlaja said that Klemm doesn’t keep his section clean and that trash continuously floats down the river to her section.

Klemm argued that he cleans his section.

He said that if there is going to be a hassle regarding him getting a license for this summer, he wanted to table his request and bring back supporters to the next county board meeting.

The commissioners said that’s doable, and that the license request is tabled indefinitely until Klemm requests to put it back on the agenda. Until then, he has no license to operate his tubing company.

“I look at it this way: If you have a bad bar in town, you eventually shut it down. You don’t wipe all bars out,” Pihlaja said.

“Our goal is cooperation, not to put anyone out of business,” said Board Chairman John Okeson.

Commissioner Barry Nelson said that unless the sheriff recommends Klemm get his license, he won’t support it either.

It is now up to Klemm to get the issue back on the agenda and up for approval.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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