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County rejects first draft of park, rec ordinance

It's back to the drawing board for the new Becker County Parks and Recreation Ordinance.

The first draft ordinance weighed in at 45 pages and was not well-received by commissioners when they received it a few days prior to the public hearing held Tuesday.

"Did anybody get past page 28?" asked Commissioner Larry Knutson.

A handful of county residents were at the hearing to comment on the proposed ordinance, and Board Chairman Barry Nelson essentially told them not to bother -- at least not with the details.

"As commissioners we do not intend to move forward on this (draft proposal)," he said. "There are numerous flaws in this -- duplications, it's overly wordy."

The board prefers its ordinances short and simple, he said.

"We will go with Minnesota Nice -- we don't want an ordinance that is overly-regulatory. The current draft is kind of a cut-and-paste job from other counties. It's not necessarily the final product."

In fact, it would have been better if this particular version had never gotten so far as the public hearing stage, he said.

County Administrator Tom Mortenson suggested that a committee be set up to revamp the ordinance, including the county attorney, county sheriff, county administrator and a few other department heads.

The board accepted that idea.

There is a big difference in how people use a county park like Dunton Locks and county tax-forfeited land, and the ordinance governing their use needs to reflect that, Nelson said.

"The county will likely break it into two areas -- parks and tax-forfeited land," he said. "We may need to address two or three levels of properties -- parks are totally different than big acreage areas."

(In a related move at the county board meeting in Tuesday, the board established the Mountain View Recreation Area, located in the Detroit Mountain area, as a limited-use non-motorized, non-hunting county park.)

At the hearing, Barb Halbakken Fischburg thanked the board "for really listening to what citizens said."

She noted that a lot of the terminology defined in the draft ordinance is already set forth in state statute, and it might make sense to simply go with the state's definitions.

Terry Kalil also praised Mortenson, saying that "Tom has been phenomenal to work with," and that he always listens and returns phone calls and emails.

Willis Matson said the draft ordinance "strikes me as a solution in need of a problem," and urged the commissioners to incorporate a "statement of need and reasonableness" as part of the process to define the problem, cite the authority and spell out enforcement procedures.

It's something state agencies do, which would be fitting because county tax-forfeited lands are actually "state lands entrusted to counties to manage," he said.

He also urged commissioners to look at the problem of terrestrial invasive species.

"With aquatic invasive species, at this point you're kind of closing the barn door after the horse is gone. With terrestrial invasive species, the horse isn't out yet," he said.