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Breezy Point: Council denies residents' road vacation petition

Breezy Point residents crowded city hall Monday, May 1, for a public hearing regarding the vacation of Channel Road - or eliminating the public's right to use part of the road - during the regular city council meeting.

The council ultimately denied a petition from residents to vacate a portion of Channel Road that extends from Hilltop Drive to the shore of Lake Ossawinnamakee.

The petition, which 11 of the 14 property owners on the plat in question signed, came before the council in February. Council members acknowledged it and began taking steps to consider the vacation, which would cut off public access to Lake Ossawinnamakee at that point.

After seeking opinions from the Department of Natural Resources and the Pequot Lakes Fire Department, the council held a public hearing Monday to listen to voices on both sides of the issue.

Various petitioners cited reasons for vacating the road. Reasons included the spread of aquatic invasive species in Lake Ossawinnamakee and unauthorized docks on the shore in the summer, causing visual and safety concerns. Channel Road is also not the only public access to the lake.

Kurt Porter, attorney at Severson Porter Law, summed up the petitioners' concerns.

"The purpose of the petition ... really is the invasive species. It's not about where the land goes after the road is vacated," Porter said. "Protecting the lake and protecting surrounding lakes is your public purpose."

Porter added that since the road is used more heavily in the winter than the summer, the petition could be amended and allow an easement to be granted in the winter. The fire department would also still be able to access the road in an emergency.

Arguments against the vacation came from residents who don't live on a lake and appreciate the access point, as well as from the DNR and Pequot Lakes Fire Department.

Brainerd Area Fisheries Supervisor Marc Bacigalupi said he understands the concerns about AIS but said closing public accesses to lakes is not the answer.

"Our mission is to maintain public fishing and recreational opportunities while still having a level of protection," Bacigalupi said, adding that vacating the road isn't the way to address the other issues brought forward either.

A letter from Lori Dowling-Hanson, northeast regional director for the Minnesota DNR, also states the DNR's opposition to the vacation.

Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson added to the arguments against vacating the road, saying the fire department needs access to the lake to pump water if there's a fire in the vicinity. Even if an easement would be granted to the fire department after Channel Road's vacation, Nelson said gaining access can still be an issue because residents could put up barriers or other objects near the road that would hinder emergency vehicle access.

After hearing from those on both sides of the issue, council members agreed that the road should not be vacated, but Mayor Tom Lillehei said the council will start researching methods to address resident concerns, which could include putting up a gate to limit or restrict public access in the summer.

The resolution cited the following reasons for the vacation denial: The right of way was dedicated to the public for public use, the proposed vacation provides no public benefit to match the value of the current public resources, the proposed vacation negatively impacts access to public water, and the vacation would hinder access for emergency vehicles.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Renewed Highview Campground's 3.2 on-sale malt liquor license.

• Approved a transfer of funds from the city's general fund to the revolving capital fund. City Administrator Joe Rudberg said the general fund must maintain a reserve of 40-45 percent of the current general fund budget, but the reserve currently exceeds that percentage.

• Chose to hire Fiks-Con Inc. in Breezy Point to reroof the city's public safety building at an estimated cost of $56,200 for 50-year shingles.

• Approved the purchase of a walk-n-roll packer that compacts gravel after it's graded. The equipment would mean less dust, firmer road surfaces, less erosion and ultimately less maintenance requirements.

• Renewed the city's agreement with North Memorial to provide medical direction, equipment and medications that allow certified police officers to give advanced medical services to pre-hospital patients.

• Learned the Breezy Point Police Department responded to 152 incidents in April, three traffic arrests, six animal-related calls and two thefts. Police assisted other agencies 32 times.