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Cass County acquires conservation land

BACKUS – Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson reported Tuesday the county sold 584 acres of land from January 2011 through October 2012 and purchased 785 acres during the same time period.

He considers acreages the county sold to be non-conservation land. Of the 584 acres sold, 320 acres had no public access, 220 were surrounded by private property and 44 acres were part of a plat (some included city lots).

The acreages the county purchased during that time are considered conservation land. Much of it lies next to property the county already owns and manages. The new sites will give access to 1,300 more acres of county land that previously was not accessible, he told the county board.

The purchases not only will give the county a net 201.96 acres more to manage for timber regeneration and wildlife habitat improvement, but also will give the public access to 1,501.95 more acres for hunting and recreation that people could not previously reach without crossing private property, he said.

Buyers paid the county $740,765 for the land they bought from the county. Of that, $298,203.75 will reimburse the land department for expenses, $78,000 will be repaid to the county’s dedicated Fund 73 account, $99,401.25 will go to county reforestation, $66,267.50 will go to trails and recreation, $79,521 will go to the county general fund, $79,521 will go to school districts and $39,760.50 will go to cities and townships.

Stevenson said the county has about another $85,000 worth of land available for sale at the land department office in Backus at this time.

The county board voted to set Dec. 17 to tour wood processing mills at Bemidji. Area state legislators will be invited to join the tour.

The board approved a five-year contract with Minnesota Department of Transportation to exchange services such as road maintenance and project designing.

This will enable county highway officials to execute specific projects without bringing each project back to the county commissioners for individual project approval.

County highway officials failed to receive any bids for the county to sell three used diesel fuel tanks in an online auction, despite the fact 351 different people viewed the online sale site.

The commissioners voted Tuesday to allow County Engineer David Enblom to try negotiate the sale of one or more of the tanks to one individual who expressed an interest in one or two of the tanks at an undesignated price below the county’s advertised minimum $8,000 bid.

Any tanks remaining unsold after that will be offered at a new auction next year with four additional tanks the county will phase out of use at that time.

The board approved reimbursing the city of Lake Shore $20,000 toward the recently completed study for a proposed multi-use recreational trail around the west shore of Gull Lake adjacent to County State Aid Highway 77.

Trail Team 77 committee members are in the process of researching grant and private foundation funding sources to build the trail.

The board also received a preliminary report on potential options for possible recreational trails proposed to connect Camp Ripley with existing and proposed recreational trails in southern Cass County (including the Paul Bunyan Trail), Crow Wing County and running south to Little Falls and eventually connecting with a southern section of the Soo Line Trail.

Estimated cost for the entire project would run around $21 million, which Cass Administrator Robert Yochum suggested would require a combination of federal, state and local funding.

He also suggested such a major undertaking which overlaps multiple counties and local jurisdictions might benefit from direction under a lead agency such as Region 5, not just a local trails volunteer committee.

Commissioner Bob Kangas said projects like this make more evident that there is a need for some kind of fee charged to bicycle riders who use these multi-use trails to help support not only their construction, but also future maintenance. Funds from license fees charged to snowmobilers and four-wheeler operators go toward trails.

Phil Martin, who helped prepare the Camp Ripley trail corridor study, explained that some of the final route for such a major trail system would depend upon where the trails most economically cross multiple rivers and major highways like Highway 371 and Highway 210.

Another question still to be answered is whether the trails could use parts of existing rights of way for electric utilities, highways or railroads, he said.

County Engineer David Enblom said he will work in the next year or two with Morrison County to replace a failing county road bridge over a river between the two counties. He suggested he could look into the possibility of funding a trail addition to that road bridge when it is rebuilt.

Martin said how far this trail system proposal goes ultimately will depend upon how much local recreational enthusiasts want to push toward seeing it become a reality and whether that much funding can be found.