County stays away from dam dispute

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2003

The Freeborn County Board decided to stay away from a dispute over a dam on Lake Chapeau, also known as White Lake, as long as the issue is under scrutiny by the district court.

The Lake Chapeau Habitat Committee asked the board to condemn the property surrounding the dam site to establish an easement, which would allow for the constructing a new dam.

The group built the dam in 2000 without a permit from the Department of Natural Resources, and filed a lawsuit against the state agency to defend the dam.

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The two parties agreed to settle the case last year by allowing the committee to replace the current dam with a permanent structure with water-control capability. But, the committee failed to obtain the easement from landowner George Dress. The easement is integral to enact the settlement agreement.

To break the impasse, the committee asked the board for the condemnation. Meanwhile, a lawyer for Dress notified them that the dam had been removed. Committee members have been claiming the water level is down by 18 inches, and urging immediate action by the board.

&uot;There are so many legal points of view here, pointing one way or the other. I’m inclined to leave it up to the judge to make a decision,&uot; Commissioner Dan Springborg said. &uot;I hate to see White Lake dry up this summer. But, also I don’t know if it’s necessarily our right to step in there.&uot;

Commissioner Glen Mathiason said, &uot;I don’t know what kind of legal ramifications if we take an action … I don’t know if this is the proper time for us to get involved.&uot;

Commissioner Dan Belshan suggested the lakeshore residents could establish a lake improvement district to move things forward. The district is a tax authority separate from the county, and can assess the cost, levy or receive grants for lake-improvement projects, including a construction of dam. &uot;That’s maybe a step that helps to resolve this,&uot; Belshan said.

The trial is set for June 17, following a scheduling conference on April 9. But, what will be tried by the court is uncertain because Dress is not a part of the case. The committee’s attorney, Don Savelkoul, said he would seek to add Dress as a defendant if necessary.

The DNR indicated that the removal of the dam was lawful, and the agency is not contemplating any action. The agency refuted the committee’s claim that the removal would affect the lake’s ecosystem.

Scott Hanna, who lives close to the lake, questioned the participation of four commissioners in a meeting held by the committee. The same group, which claimed the last board meeting was illegal, has been criticizing the meeting, which took place earlier this month at the Albert Lea City Arena, violated the Open Meeting Law, which prevents a quorum of elected officials from gathering unless the public is invited and notified.

County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen said the meeting should not be subject to the law.

&uot;This was not a meeting the commissioners are expected to act on anything. This was not a meeting called by the county,&uot; Gabrielsen said. &uot;We went to (former) Mayor (Marv) Wangen’s funeral. We didn’t publish anything when we had a quorum of commissioners there … There was no public meeting. There was no agenda. There is not going to be minutes.&uot;