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Agreement preserves Mississippi River Northwoods land for conservation, recreation

BAXTER ­— An agreement, which became a battle in the State House of Representatives, was announced to preserve about 2,000 acres of land and more than two miles of Mississippi River waterway for multi-use public recreation and conservation.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, attended Tuesday’s Baxter council meeting with the news, thanking council member Todd Holman for his work on the project. Ward said Holman played a big factor and deserved a pat on the back. Ward compared the Mississippi River land agreement to the one that created the often-praised Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area incorporating the mine pit lakes area and now the mountain bike trails.

Ward said the Trust for Public Land announced the agreement to purchase the Potlatch Corporation property in the French Rapids area northeast of Brainerd for a Department of Natural Resources-approved value of $11 million.

The state Legislature, with recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, passed an Omnibus Legacy Bill appropriating this money. The project had Senate support and originally asked for $14 million for the land purchase, but it ran into resistance in the House. Ward said some thought the property was assessed too highly and wanted to cut the funding to $7 million using the other dollars to fight invasive aquatic species. Two assessments on the property came in at $13 million and $11 million.

During a break at the Baxter council meeting, Ward said both causes — the Mississippi River Northwoods project and fighting invasive aquatic species — were important, but preserving the land for multi-recreational use for generations to come was an opportunity that would never happen again.

The funding for the land purchase is coming from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was created by voters in 2008.

“This is a great achievement that could only have been accomplished with the hard work of many, many people,” Ward said in a news release. “I’m thankful to my legislative colleagues from both sides of the aisle who saw the value in this project and to everyone else who made this possible.

In the announcement, Becca Nash of The Trust for Public Land, said Ward was “critical in gaining support in the House — giving a colorful and convincing endorsement on the House floor, and working tirelessly with his Democratic and Republican colleagues to get Legacy funds secured. This couldn’t have happened without him.”

The Trust for Public Land reported the next step is with Crow Wing County, which needs to formally acquire the property by Nov. 30.

In other business, the Baxter council:

Tabled discussion on requiring garages with residential development. Staff recommended zoning require two spaces per dwelling for single family homes provided by a garage that as a minimum would be 20 feet by 22 feet. For two family dwellings or townhomes, the staff recommended at least one space with a garage building at least 12 feet by 22 feet per housing unit.

Multifamily dwellings would require at least a half garage or underground space per unit, per recommendation. Underground space would need to be 10 feet by 20 feet or 16 feet by 20 feet for handicap parking. Staff recommended the city retain the option to waive the garage requirement for any building or complexes designed for senior living.

City Administrator Gordon Heitke recommended waiting to be sure the garage size requirements don’t exceed financing limits.

Approved on a 4-1 vote a Widseth Smith Nolting proposal for engineering services to look at south Baxter sewer force main improvements not to exceed $5,200. The city previously reported a weakness in the system was identified at lift station No. 2 by SuperOne Foods. Trevor Walter, public works director, said the city has known this day was coming for 14 years as development kept going.

“We knew by 2012 or 2014 we’d run into problems again,” Walter said, noting the lift station was updated in 2003 or 2004. “The only thing that saved us was we had a recession in the meantime.”

The recession hit and development projects left with it. A large gathering this summer at Forestview, which doubled the city’s population for the weekend, highlighted the weakness in the sewer system. There are different options to fix it, including using pumps for an interim fix that could last several years. The engineering study is expected to layout costs of the city’s options. Council member Mark Cross said the city needs to watch special events in the future.

Council member Rob Moser said the city is going to grow and something will need to be done eventually.

“The (economic) recovery has taken a lot longer than anyone anticipated and now we have to think differently. We’ve been bending and bending and bending and now we are bumping up against those limits,” Moser said.

Council member Jim Klein opposed.

Approved the online sale at a state auction site of two squad cars, a 2006 Ford Crown Victoria and 2006 Dodge Charger, which the city replaced this summer.

Learned petitions for street improvements to Wildflower and Franklin drives didn’t meet the city requirement of 75 percent of property owners, coming in with 43.3 percent.

Approved an interim use permit allowing office and retail in one half and service and repair in the other half for two buildings at 6957 Foley Road along with a limited use agreement for the parking lot.

Approved an interim use permit to allow a 23-unit dog kennel operation on 12.02 acres at 3523 Richfield Road, which was a smaller land size than the 20 acres the kennel previously included. Community Development Director Bill Deblon said the kennel has been in operation for 25 years and there were no close neighbors and no complaints or public concerns.

Approved a change to allow White Sand Condominiums, 5822 Laverne Circle, to revert back to rental apartments as it was before converting to condominiums.

Met in closed session to discuss land acquisition to extend Isle Drive. When the council met again in open session, members voted to reject an offer to buy the entire land parcel and proceed with right-of-way acquisition.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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