Public pushes to keep Gull Lake Dam Road open - Corps of Engineers explains reasons for potential closure
A meeting about the possible closure of a portion of Gull Lake Dam Road turned into two meetings when crowds filled East Gull Lake City Hall to fire capacity Wednesday, July 25. After 47 people had signed into the meeting, Cass County Sheriff's O...
A meeting about the possible closure of a portion of Gull Lake Dam Road turned into two meetings when crowds filled East Gull Lake City Hall to fire capacity Wednesday, July 25. After 47 people had signed into the meeting, Cass County Sheriff's Office officials told the approximately 20 people left outside there would be another informational meeting directly following the planned 6:30 meeting.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives told the crowd about concerns that recently came up with a portion of road between the Gull Lake Campground entrance and the T-intersection of Gull Lake Dam Road.
Brian Turner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site lead at the Gull Lake Recreation Area, explained how these concerns came up following an embankment slide just upstream of the Gull Lake Dam in the fall of 2017. After the issue was fixed the Corps realized it had an outdated license with the city of East Gull Lake for the management of the road, which is on federal property under Corps stewardship. East Gull Lake is responsible for the road's maintenance. Turner said the license, which dates back to 1926, needs to be updated if the road stays open.
Then came the concern with the road's compatibility with the Army Corps' mission, which Turner said is recreation, environmental stewardship and flood reduction. Lastly, tribal representatives requested the portion of the road to be permanently closed because of its proximity to sacred Native American burial grounds.
The Corps has since met with tribal representatives and Cass County and East Gull Lake government officials, as well as other stakeholders to decide the road's future.
Several community members took to the podium to explain why the road should stay open. Many spoke about how they drive the road nearly every day and would be negatively impacted by its closure.
Chris Foy, owner of Ernie's on Gull, said his business would suffer with the road closure.
"We're a restaurant on the end of a dead end road. It's already hard to get to. We can't make it any harder with the closure of a road. A lot of our customers obviously come from the resort area," Foy said. "Just closing the road without an addition of another road would be a dramatic impact on us."
East Gull Lake resident Bernie McDonough questioned how the burial grounds were affected by the road, as he has never heard the issue brought up before.
Marty Halvorson, another East Gull Lake resident, said he felt out of loop by not being able to see the tribal request and understand the desire to close the road.
Mike Belisle, a Pillager resident who spends a lot of time in East Gull Lake, commended the Corps for doing everything it can to take care of the road's issues. He also expressed how important the Gull Lake Recreation Area is to the community and said he appreciates all the historical artifacts available to the public. But because no tribal representatives were present at the meeting, Belisle said he agreed with other commenters in that he would like to know more specifics about the burial ground issues.
"We need to have them (the tribes) explain to us what that is all about because we have the rights as well as they do. And we need to respect each other-the tribe respecting us and we respecting the tribe."
Belisle said he believes the Corps and the county can find a solution to keep everyone happy.
Tamara Cameron, deputy chief of operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District, thanked Belisle for understanding the need for mutual respect. Regarding concerns of no tribal representation at the meeting, Cameron said the Corps filled that role.
"It is our responsibility to protect the cultural resources there. It is a sacred site. Things that were done in the past, in the 1900s were really completely inappropriate, and we've learned a lot since then. And it is our responsibility to figure out how best to protect that resource," she said. "Whether Native American representatives are here or not, we are the stewards and we are responsible."
Another resident voiced concern about the fire department being able to reach some East Gull Lake homes if the road is closed.
Turner said the future of the road depends on public comment, the road's impact on the Corps' mission, and information gathered from tribal representatives and road authorities-East Gull Lake, Crow Wing County and Cass County.
The Corps will make the decision in the winter whether to close the road or keep it open. If the road is closed, the Corps will terminate its license with East Gull Lake from 2022-2024. East Gull Lake would then have to work with Cass and Crow Wing counties to find alternate routes.
If the road stays open, the Corps will work with the city and Cass County to develop an easement that meets current standards.
Public comments will be accepted until Aug. 25 and can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information and additional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contact information, visit https://bit.ly/2LmXC6m .