Hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts will finally be able to reach a previously landlocked wildfowl production area behind the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls.

The Otter Tail County Commission on Tuesday, May 11, approved the sale of 42.65 acres to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The parcel will connect the learning center with the 338-acre Tungseth Waterfowl Production Area, providing access to the public.

The land is temporarily being held by the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club, pending sale to the federal government. It was the desire of the previous owners, the Johnson family, that the land belong to the learning center, Neil Powers of Fish & Game told commissioners.

"The possibility of a private entity acquiring this property and engaging in a business venture that detracts or negatively affects the programming of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center is a real possibility," according to documents he presented to the board.

"Right now that parcel, because it's landlocked, does not offer opportunities, for example, for public hunting, and limited public recreation because its a pretty significant jump to get down to it," Powers said.

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The Fish & Wildlife service will eventually remove buildings on the property, and restore the land with native plants. It is expected to provide habitat for insects and animals, and be accessible to children as well as to people with disabilities.

In Minnesota, county commissions have to authorize the sale of land to the federal government, according to a 1962 agreement between the Minnesota DNR and Fish & Wildlife. The transfer removes the land from the county property tax rolls, nearly $2,000 a year. To make up for it, the federal government will pay Otter Tail County a one-time sum of $21,000.

The board also approved the granting of two conservation leases in Otter Tail County to U.S. Fish & Wildlife. Lea and Shana Barry, of Richville, sold a conservation easement on 166 acres to the agency, as did the Robert Farm Trust in Dead Lake and Amor townships, of 216 acres. Both easements allow grazing year-round and hay cutting after July 15.

Bridge work to start in June

The bridge near Perham over the Otter Tail River on County Road 8 will be replaced starting in June, according to County Engineer Charles Grotte's report to the commissioners.

The project appears ready to start June 13 and should be finished by Aug. 13, he said. The county is looking for alternative routes.

More work for shoreland ordinance

Is a building a dwelling if it doesn't have a kitchen? Is a room a kitchen if it has a microwave but no fridge? What if it has a refrigerator but no stove?

Those are the thorny questions commissioners dealt with on Tuesday as it considered a proposed new shoreland ordinance and how to ensure that lake lots don't get crowded with vacation rentals. State law allows only one dwelling per lot, and county officials are already seeing property owners get around local rules by building lodging on their land — especially above garages — by claiming it's not a dwelling because it lacks a kitchen or a bedroom.

After all, if the county states that a dwelling means it must have a bedroom, then all a property owner has to do is put bunks against a wall in an open-plan structure and say it's not a bedroom.

The commission tasked attorney Michelle Eldien and Land and Resource Director Chris LeClair to figure out how to word the ordinance to prevent loopholes.

Vacation rental homes were a top concern at a May 10 public hearing about the proposed new ordinance, which incorporates parts of the old ordinance and tightens some areas and loosens others. The county is planning to hold at least one workshop on the ordinance before it formally votes whether to adopt it.

Platting standards are also a major concern, LeClair told commissioners.

County Road 6 to close

Commissioners talked about doing something quickly with County Road 6 near Parkers Prairie, where a driver recently went off the road into Nelson Lake.

The lake has risen so much that it covers the road at times, and the county has added gravel to the lowest area as a temporary fix. But it can be a jarring experience for motorists, as most of the road is asphalt.

“I don’t want anyone else rolling into the water. One’s enough,” said Commissioner Wayne Johnson. “We need to shut that road down.”

The commission considered taking emergency action on the road. Members met with Emergency Manager Patrick Waletzko after the meeting during a committee hearing. A recording of that hearing is not available to the public until the following day, but Public Information Officer Shannon Terry said as of 5:15 p.m. Tuesday that the plan is to close the road.

Commissioners have not yet decided what to do about the flooding. They are currently considering building a ditch to drain Nelson Lake and lower the lake level, but area residents aren't so sure they want that to happen.

In other action:

  • The county granted a 30-day no wake zone on Twin Lake near Parkers Prairie, where water levels have been high.
  • Commissioners narrowly voted to abide by the state's request for a $50,000 deposit to ensure the county's work on the Perham-to-Pelican Rapids Trail is finished correctly while in the state right-of-way. The request irked Chairman Lee Rogness. "I thought they were partners with us," he said. Grotte said the $50,000 is refundable, and that MNDOT is asking for deposits statewide.