County board delays decision on lake outletPublished 10:53am Thursday, February 23, 2012
Though Otter Tail County commissioners seemed confident to give the green light for an outlet on Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes, several said they need 30 days to weigh environmental concerns before deciding whether or not to move forward with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
One public comment period, for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) regarding the use of Ditch 25 as an outlet, ended on Feb. 8. Now the board needs to answer one question: “Does the proposed project have the potential for significant environmental effects?”
The board must provide findings to support either a yes or no answer. For that reason, a decision on the EIS could not be made Tuesday. Requirement of an EIS would likely mean a significant delay for the project.
“My feeling is to move ahead and vote no on the EIS,” said Commissioner Doug Huebsch who represents the Perham area. “I’m against any more delays. However, I agree with my fellow board members that certain environmental issues need to be addressed before we vote on the EIS.”
The proposed outlet route west of Perham extends in a southwesterly direction. Water would discharge from Little McDonald Lake to Berger Lake, in turn flowing through Big McDonald, Round, Star, Dead, Walker and Otter Tail lakes. Then the water would flow into the Otter Tail River.
The project, if it gained final approval, also would include control structures, channels and conduits.
Two of those issues include monitoring of phosphorus and the topic of lake sediments.
“Our goal, in my estimation, should be to work something out that’s workable and manageable regarding the phosphorus and sediment issues, without the need for an EIS,” said Commissioner Wayne Johnson who represents the Pelican Rapids area.
The other four commissioners agreed with Johnson’s assessment.
“Extending this (further study) over the next 30 days will allow us to take a look at gaps in the environmental process and then make a proper decision,” said Commission Chairman Lee Rogness.
Land and Resource Director Bill Kalar said taking the time to study some environmental concerns was the proper course of action. He said he is confident that concerns regarding the lake outlet can be addressed.
“We can move this project along with environmental stewardship in mind,” said Huebsch, “without fear and confusion. Unseen issues can be addressed, down the road.”
County Attorney David Hauser said it’s necessary that the county board, over the next 30 days, consider all the substantive and timely comments addressed during the EAW comment period. He also outlined environmental rules as criteria for making decisions, such as what the county board will need to do regarding whether or not to proceed with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
One of those issues is an engineer’s report that says excess capacity with the lakes outlet, west of Perham, could be mitigated with proper (water) releases. Another issue that the county board will need to address are concerns over potential downstream flooding.
“We never know every possible risk,” said Huebsch, “but we (commissioners) pledge to work with downstream residents as well as those who reside along the lakes west of Perham.”
Kalar reiterated that if the county board decides that an EIS is required, that process must be completed before any permits can be approved by the county. If the county board decides that an EIS isn’t needed, the permit process could begin unless the county board’s decision is appealed to district court.