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Environmental assessment of Trout Lake Camps expansion deemed unnecessary

A citizen’s petition with more than 200 signatures came to the attention of the Crow Wing County Board on Tuesday, Sept. 24, as petitioners asked the county to perform an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for an expansion of Trout Lake Camps.

The board, after hearing public comment from both sides of the issue, voted that the EAW wasn’t necessary.

Trout Lake Camps is located on the shore of Big Trout Lake of the Whitefish Chain and recently purchased 100 acres across County Road 134 from its current location. The purchase includes around 600 feet of lakeshore on Arrowhead Lake.

The new camp, called Wild Woods, is intended for elementary-aged students. Jon Wicklund, executive director of Trout Lake Camps, said the expansion is intended for 160 campers plus staff. The camp’s horse stables would be moved to the new location, and parking spaces would be created there for several hundred cars.

Materials provided to the board say the camp will include a “splash lagoon/shower house” with a slip-n-slide and wading pool, a mini golf course, target range, boating area on Arrowhead Lake for kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and one or two motorized fishing boats, kickball field, fishing pond, nature trails as well as cabins, a dining hall and restrooms.

Neighbors of the camp and other area stakeholders took issue with the expansion, concerned for noise, light pollution and the environmental impact the camp would have on Arrowhead Lake, including to its wild rice and natural state.

Joe Christensen spoke on behalf of the petitioners. While he is an attorney, he told the board he was acting as a volunteer. Christensen said if 80 acres of land is being changed from its current use, law requires an EAW. While county employees believed that less than 80 acres is being altered, Christensen argued that more than 80 acres will be altered, and that the EAW was mandatory.

Christensen also believed that the bowl-shaped nature of the land would lend itself to noise pollution. He said a traffic study should be completed, as traffic will be increased on County Road 134.

“Let’s take the time to work through the information, get all the facts, then make a good decision and have some good input around what are the conditions that are going to be attached to the CUP (conditional use permit),” Christensen said to the board.

He also argued that Land Services supervisor Chris Pence had been involved in the permit process for the camp, which is a conflict of interest because Pence is on the board of stewards of the Minnesota Iowa Baptist Conference, which owns the camp.

County Administrator Tim Houle said the county’s strict conflict of interest policy was followed correctly and the county found no issues. Pence dismissed himself from the project and was not in the room as the board discussed the issue.

County Land Services director Mark Liedl said many of the petitioners’ concerns would have been vetted in the CUP process, but the petition stopped that process, and the process of public notifications and hearings.

Wicklund said the camp’s goal is to be good stewards of the land and not have a serious impact on the environment. He said the cabins the camp will build will not be winterized and that area of the camp will primarily be used for 10 weeks in the summer.

The Land Services Department said only 8 percent impervious surface will be created on the land, which is far below the 25 percent maximum allowed by law.

Wicklund said buildings will be built well away from the lake, and the camp hopes to minimize the loss of large trees like white pines.

“I would say in this situation, based on the big picture, an EAW is not mandatory but under your discretion. We just feel like it’s not an issue for us,” Wicklund said, noting the cost for an EAW would be $20,000-$30,000 and would delay the project.

Many members of the public spoke during public forum both for and against the EAW.

Liedl said the Land Services Department’s opinion was that the EAW was not necessary. The board agreed and the decision against the EAW was unanimous.

Kate Perkins can be reached Follow her on Facebook.