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RV park wall causes consternation

A silt fence or retaining wall. That is the question.

The feud continues surrounding a retaining wall under construction at River Hills RV Park. Supposedly, the building of it has been halted, pending permits.

When the wall was noticed and reported, letters and meetings started happening fast and furious.

According to final Planned Unit Development plans and plans submitted for the Environmental Assessment Worksheet, there was a silt fence indicated on the map. A thick, solid line curved along the Pelican River, making a home for about half a dozen trailer lots.

"The first thing to ask is why does it have to be done? It doesn't," said Bob Merritt, hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He said there was no reason to disturb the land other than the developer, Pat Onstad, wanted a few more spots on the river. There were no erosion problems with the hill until now, he added.

The retaining wall was never brought up during planning meetings. Onstad said the plan approved by the Pelican River Watershed District included the retaining wall in both the map and the written documents.

A watershed official said that's not true.

Merritt said he does not have a copy of the erosion control plan that may have the wall indicated on it. As for the written documents, "they mention a retaining wall once, but not where it's going to be."

Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter said in the stormwater and drainage map approved by the Watershed District, there are top and bottom elevations noted in that area, but no indication of a retaining wall. She said there also was nothing mentioning the wall in the written documents.

She added that the elevations were so off that if the retaining wall were to stand and hold the pressure that will be placed on it, it would need to be dug 400 feet into the ground.

"There was no clear labeling," she said.

Merritt said the wall has been built like a basement wall, with no engineering. He said it needs more strength, needs to be further into the ground and need to have weep holes, or a way for rain to run down and not create more pressure against the wall.

He said the original plan that indicated silt fencing would have been acceptable. The landscaping fabric is used to stop water and soil from rushing down a hillside. The pores of the fabric would allow the water to seep through at a slower pace and retain the soil.

"We didn't realize there was going to be work done in that area at all. It's shown at the top of the hill," he said of the silt fencing.

The hill is considered a steep slope, and according to Detroit Lakes city ordinances and statewide ordinances, shouldn't be built on.

Merritt said any slope greater than 12 percent is considered steep, and the RV Park's 10-foot hill is about a 28 percent slope.

"The construction of the large retaining wall on the River Hills Park contradicts the intent of the Land Suitability requirement and would have been challenged during the platting process," he said in a letter to City Administrator Rich Grabow.

Merritt said the solution is to pull out the wall, re-grade the land and then replant the area with erosion control matting and vegetation.

According to state law, Merritt said, the wall couldn't be constructed even if it was designed properly.

While he may believe that, it is the city's final decision to give a permit to build the wall or not.

Guetter agreed that it is the city's territory, since the wall is shown 50 feet from the river. The shore impact zone is 25 feet from the river, taking it out of the Pelican River Watershed District's control and giving it to the city.

"It needs to go back through the process of the planning commission and city council," she said, since there was no discussion the first time through about the retaining wall.

She said nothing has been very clear about the wall or what's going to happen with it in the future.

"I would encourage the city to follow the ordinances," she said.

She added that environmental engineers from Sathre-Bergquist, located in Wayzata, indicated to her they had no plans for the retaining wall and weren't aware of it, either.

According to Merritt, there are also issues with the Department of Health, which must sign off on the project as well.

Merritt said he has talked to a representative from the department and was told the department has not received enough information to give its approval.

"They (the developers) are doing work in a shoreland district that doesn't meet state standards," Merritt said.

As far as officials have been informed, the construction has been stopped until the permits are issued.

"I hope in the future we can come up with a better process," Merritt said. "We need a technical panel (to go over development plans) in the city, also."

He said people can still have development along lakes, but it needs to be done in the proper way.