Freeborn County could lose dam on Tuesday

Published 9:15 am Monday, October 6, 2008

I thought the public should know that it looks like the Jugland dam will be given away Tuesday morning to an individual. The Freeborn County Commissioners will vote.

Freeborn County, Shell Rock River Watershed District and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decided to rebuild the current dam together. It would provide benefits to all three. Freeborn County asked us to fix their dam.

I am a member of the watershed district board. We were told the county owned the dam. We started the process and were negotiating with the Palmer family not for the dam but for the land around the dam. The land was needed to reduce the liability to Freeborn County. People would fish off the bridge and park cars along the highway and the county could be sued if an accident occurred. We never were negotiating for the dam, as it was already owned by the county. We proceeded to design a dam-bridge structure, and all sides agreed to spend the money for it. We did not need permission from Palmers to tear down our old dam. The county owned it and had access to it. Again, the negotiations for the nine acres were for a parking lot for canoe and fisherman needs. If parking was not supplied, the county would need to put up a fence to stop the fishing.

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The district made a deal with Mr. Palmer and was writing up the papers when it was sold to Mr. Greg Jensen. Mr. Jensen understood what we were negotiating, and he decided that he now owns the dam. We have continued to try and work something out, but he kept changing and refusing to talk to us. He claims because the paperwork is gray that he owns the dam. The old attorney general and our lawyers have told us we should win, but it will take us five to seven years of lawyer bills to prove it. When the SRRWD took over the project we did not know any of this. Freeborn County, the watershed district and the DNR have spent more than $220,000 of taxpayer money to design the current dam layout. Mr. Jensen insists that we leave the dam where it is. He does not want anyone canoeing down his river. The problem is it is Minnesota’s public waters. No one owns the river individually. The only thing a private individual can do is block access to it. If the dam stays in its current position you will never have access to that part of the Shell Rock River again. Mr. Jensen wants to control the ownership of the dam, access to the river and have the Shell Rock River Watershed District pay to fix “his” dam.

The SRRWD voted to continue with our current plans of putting the dam with the bridge and reducing the liability to the county. The proposed dam has a variable-crest feature to it that would be used only when we need to do a fish kill. This ability would reduce hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years when fish kills are needed. Remember the dam is under water when major flooding occurs. Carp will migrate back in and fish kills will be necessary in the future.

On Tuesday morning the Freeborn County commissioners will vote to continue with our plan and we will need to take the dam through eminent domain. Remember, we are doing it on the dam we already own, not Mr. Jensen’s dam. None of us wants to use eminent domain, but Mr. Jensen stepped into this with full knowledge. He would not be out anything, as he would get back what he paid.

If Freeborn County votes no, then they are giving the dam to Mr. Jensen and we have wasted $220,000 of taxpayer money, and one individual will forever own and control your dam.

If that happens, I think the SRRWD will walk away from the dam forever and Freeborn County and Mr. Jensen can deal with it. Why would the SRRWD spend money on a private individual’s dam?

Clayton Petersen is a board member of the Shell Rock River Watershed District.