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Commissioners to 'wait and see' study on Detroit Mountain property

With the opinions of commissioners still divided over whether Becker County should be involved in the proposed redevelopment of the Detroit Mountain Ski Area property into a year-round recreation area, the county board has decided to adopt a "wait and see" attitude for the next few weeks.

More specifically, they're awaiting the outcome of a feasibility study that's been undertaken by the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., the non-profit group formed for the purpose of developing recreational opportunities at the Detroit Mountain site.

The DMRA has been given a May 1 deadline for completion of the study.

The board heard from both proponents and opponents of the Detroit Mountain project on Tuesday, as they attempted to reach a decision on what the county's role should be in the acquisition of the 200-acre Detroit Mountain (aka Lookout Mountain) property.

Both County Board Chair John Bellefeuille and County Administrator Brian Berg said they felt it was important to "keep an open mind" -- at least until the feasibility study is completed.

"I really think we need to see this feasibility study before we can go much further with this," added Commissioner Gerry Schram.

Bob Bristlin, a former county commissioner and member of the DLMA board, said he was glad the board had decided to keep an open mind.

"Nobody should make any conclusions on where this is going to go without seeing all the facts," he said.

"It's a huge opportunity," said Bellefeuille, adding that he would like to see it happen -- but only if it's not at the expense of county taxpayers.

"I don't want to see any taxpayer dollars laid out (for acquiring the property)," said Commissioner Harry Salminen, but added that if some sort of land trade or purchase could be made without the use of tax money, he'd be in favor of it.

But a land trade is precisely what has sparked so much negative opinion about this project, said Willis Mattison, Osage, who noted that "the majority of the objection is on the how - not the what or the when (of the proposed development)."

In other words, he noted, it's the possibility of trading some of the county's tax-forfeited lands in exchange for the Detroit Mountain property that has sparked such heated opposition.

Bristlin noted that he wasn't necessarily in favor of a land "swap" either; rather, he said.

"To me, trading land is a no-no anyway," he said.

Rather than a swap, it might be worthwhile for the board to consider selling some of its tax-forfeited lands to fund the actual purchase of the property.

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but... I'm getting to the point where I think we should sell tax-forfeited land," Salminen said.

For instance, Salminen said, there is a 600-acre piece of tax-forfeited property to which the county has not been able to obtain access despite repeated attempts.

"Put it on the block," he said bluntly.

Mark Fritz, another member of the DMRA group in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, said he agreed that "all that tax-forfeited land is a huge asset," for hunting and other purposes.

But if the property is "land-locked" -- i.e., has no public access -- then what use is it to anyone other than the adjacent landowners, he asked.

"I'm all for it if you want to sell some landlocked property and use it (the revenue) for this," Fritz added.

Commissioner Larry Knutson, however, presented an opposing point of view, noting that the county had recently acquired access to a 100-acre piece of property near Detroit Lakes "where we couldn't get access for years."

That property is now being developed as a recreational area, "which would never have happened if the board had followed that philosophy (of selling 'landlocked' property)," Knutson added.

Commissioner Barry Nelson said he felt the feasibility study would "answer a lot of questions" about the county's role in the project, and he looked forward to its completion.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454