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Crow Wing County Board: Board approves County Road 115 study

A motorist travels under a canopy of trees in 2014 on Ojibwa Road north of Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch file photo/Steve Kohls1 / 2
A group of residents in the Ojibwa/Nashway roads area listen Tuesday as commissioners discuss the scenic roadway's future. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

The county road encircling Round Lake will be surveyed for potential reconstruction, the Crow Wing County Board decided Tuesday.

County Road 115—also known as Ojibwa and Nashway roads—is a winding, scenic route that also happens to be nearly 35 years old and is showing its age, County Engineer Tim Bray said. The extent to which repair work should be completed by the county on the roadway is a source of tension among residents of the area, many of whom in the past expressed the desire to complete a simple pavement overlay.

County staff refuse to consider such a fix, stating the road's problems are obvious and the extent of them have yet to be properly studied.

County Administrator Tim Houle said there are a number of defects on County Road 115—poor drainage, issues with the subsurface under the pavement, inadequate sight lines and concerns for pedestrian travel safety.

"None of those are going to be cured by a simple overlay," Houle said. "It's the rough equivalent of putting new shingles on a roof that's rotten underneath."

While discussions on the issue rankled feathers more than three years ago, a group of residents in attendance Tuesday offered support for a survey of the road to be completed.

"I think we're here today to ask the project to study the road goes forward, so we'll at least know what we're all facing," said Steve Esser, Ojibwa Road resident. "Our main purpose today is to get that action started."

Houle asked the group of people seated together in the boardroom how many agreed with this point of view. A solid majority—nine or 10—out of 13 people raised their hands.

Commissioner Paul Koering said although the road is not in his district, he travels it frequently to visit a relative's cabin. He noted witnessing standing water in danger of causing vehicles to hydroplane and people jogging down the road with no room for vehicles to pass safely.

"It desperately needs to be fixed," Koering said.

But the resistance from residents in years past left a bad taste in Koering's mouth.

"There was a lot of resistance from people there that were very derogatory to the county board," Koering said.

Koering said if residents wanted a road fix, he'd support them—but otherwise his constituents in the southern part of Crow Wing County would be happy to use the money instead.

Resident Larry Stark, who also spoke in support of initiating a study, approached the microphone again to address Koering's concerns.

"I fully agree with you Paul," Stark said. "There was some very derogatory comments done early, and maybe there wasn't enough of us on that were on the positive side that ever showed up at that time."

Bray said he learned a lot about the first attempt at seeking public input on County Road 115—namely, maps of potential realignments of the road were presented before enough information was gathered. Bray said this is why he was seeking board authorization to gather proposals for survey work, to take a detailed look at the road and its attributes.

"This road needs a scalpel," Bray said. "It does not need a backhoe."

Bray showed an example of the level of detail he'd like to see on the road, using a survey document of County Highway 1 in Emily prepared by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The map showed driveways, electrical boxes and even individual trees. Bray said once a similar document were drafted for County Road 115, residents would have the opportunity to comment on more definitive information and see what kind of work the road might benefit from. The road is currently not among those listed in the county's five-year improvement plan.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, who represents the Ojibwa/Nashway roads area, said she welcomed such a survey.

"I have always wanted this information," Franzen said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to force a road down somebody's throat. ... I do believe this will never be a waste of money. We need to know if the road is in the right place, or it isn't."

Franzen said even if the study went on the shelf, the road wouldn't change in the future and the information gathered could be used should a reconstruction project appear prudent later on.

The county board unanimously approved Bray's request to solicit proposals to complete surveying, preliminary engineering and other related services for County Road 115. Commissioner Paul Thiede was absent Tuesday.

Bray said once survey work was completed, he would organize public information sessions in the summer when most seasonal residents would be in the area.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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