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Eagle Lake project stirs up Burlington Township

Eagle Lake Road in Burlington Township. This photo was taken a few days ago, before resurfacing work began.

Uproar over a paving project on Eagle Lake Road has caused the Burlington Township chairwoman to submit her resignation and has resulted in a proxy war fought through letters to the editors of newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Frazee.

On the one side is township supervisor Brian Smith and his ally, former supervisor Gary Larsen. Both have written letters critical of the board decision to resurface Eagle Lake Road, on which chairwoman Kathleen Froelich resides.

On the other side is supervisor Dave Green and Froelich, whose resignation has not yet been accepted by the board. They have an ally in Frazee resident Wally Fatland, who in a recent letter castigated Smith and urged Froelich not to resign.

Smith and Larsen say the paving project is unnecessary, at least for a few more years, but was forced through by Froelich because she lives on Eagle Lake Road.

Smith said the township's engineer, Dave Heyer, "had twice recommended that a simple seal coat would preserve the road for several years to come."

Smith said John Okeson of the Becker County Highway Department commented that "the seal coat isn't even scuffed" on Eagle Lake Road.

If anything was done at Eagle Lake Road, it should have been seal coating, he added. "That's a much cheaper solution than a full-fledged overlay, especially in these economic times."

The board voted to proceed with the project even though a majority of residents (33 out of 53) at the annual meeting this year rejected the plan in a non-binding vote, Smith said.

"People vote on taxes and the budget," he said. "But they don't have the right to vote on specific road projects. I made them (the rest of the board) aware of that, but I pleaded with them to take (the vote) into account."

The paving project means there will be no money for other roads that need work this year, including seal coating in the Hidden Hills area, and the township may not be able to afford snowplowing in late fall and early winter, said Larsen, who served a year on the board and rarely misses a township board meeting.

Froelich did not return a phone call, but Green said the issue has been intentionally overblown by Smith and Larsen, both of whom have housing developments in the township.

"We're far from broke," said Green, who called the allegations of fiscal mismanagement "a bunch of B.S."

Green said that Smith "wants to aggravate everybody so they quit and he can get a majority on the board."

Township clerk Angela Ewanika resigned in April.

"I've been going to meetings and raising issues," Smith said. "I suppose she resigned because of me."

Green said Smith wants the township to take over roads in Smith's 16-unit development and ran for township board when the township declined to do so.

Smith acknowledged that he did ask the township to take over his roads, but said that was not his primary motivation for running.

He said that the tax burden in Burlington Township has skyrocketed in the past few years and is now the highest in Becker County, at $465,000 -- up from $207,000 in 2006.

The levy is set each year by a vote of residents at the annual meeting.

Smith, an engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Detroit Lakes, was elected to the board in March. He defeated incumbent Everette Hoskin 142 votes to 92 votes. Smith served on the township board from 1993 to 2000.

Smith says he has been unable to get precise budget figures and has also been unable to get Green to meet with him this month, so on July 12 he sent out a letter to township residents:

"Chairperson Kathleen Froelich has resigned, leaving this township in a financial wreck," Smith wrote. "Call the listed township officials immediately to fill the vacant seat and get a plan in place to address the financial crisis ... in August we will be out of money with bills to pay and no place to get the money!! We are left without a shovel of gravel or a drop of dust control for the people and roads in the township for the entire year!"

Smith listed home phone numbers, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses for Green and township clerk Jennifer Beck.

In a letter, Beck says the township finances are in good shape and have been for the six years she has been treasurer.

She said the township has just under $38,000 in a checking account at Bremer Bank and another $121,000 in a money market account there.

On July 1, the township received $217,000 from Becker County for the first installment of the township's annual tax levy -- giving the township a total of about $366,000 in the bank.

Sometime after Sept. 1, the township will be obligated to pay the cost of the contractor now working on the Eagle Lake Road project (which also includes Acorn Lake Road).

The resurfacing project will cost about $262,000, leaving the township with about $94,000 to last until December.

That's when the township will receive approximately $200,000 from Becker County for the final allocation of the 2009-2010 tax levy.

That will leave about $294,000 in its coffers, "sufficient to meet all township obligations during this fiscal year," she wrote, adding:

"In my six years as township treasurer, we have never been late or missed a payment of any bill or other obligation and I see no problem meeting all obligations during the coming year including insurance, electric bills and the IRS."

The financial statements of the township are available at all township meetings and upon request, she added.