In a split vote, the Mille Lacs County Board has approved a conditional use permit with a condition added that is beyond what the county Planning Commission recommended for a planned demolition and construction project at Eddy’s Resort at Mille Lacs Lake.
Also, the majority of the board went against the recommendation of Mille Lacs County Land Services Director Michele McPherson in approving the permit with the extra condition. She had suggested not adding the condition, explaining that her recommendation not to do so was based on thorough research.
The condition came about from a concern by some of the board members that the discharge of treated wastewater from the planned new wastewater system at Eddy’s, could hurt neighboring private land by raising the water table significantly.
The County Board first took up the Eddy’s commercial planned unit development permit request at its Dec. 3 meeting. After much discussion at that meeting revolving around how Eddy’s planned new wastewater system will affect area drainage, the board tabled the matter until its Dec. 17 meeting.
That tabling allowed McPherson time to meet the board’s request to draft a fourth condition that the board could then consider including with the permit. McPherson was also asked to research the drainage in the area of Eddy’s Resort, which sits on the west side of Mille Lacs about 3 miles south of the Mille Lacs Grand Casino. Both the casino and Eddy’s Resort are owned by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Mille Lacs County Commissioner Tim Wilhelm, rural Princeton, led the effort to get the fourth condition added to the permit. The condition, which is to be in effect for five years, states that county staff members are to establish the boundaries of two particular wetlands in the area of Eddy’s and to monitor water table levels twice per year (May and October along with climate changes).
The added condition further states that if the county finds any permanent increase in the wetland boundaries by 1 foot or more, the county staff must take certain action. It must contact the Ojibwe Band to complete a detailed study and propose a remediation plan to reduce the impact of the treated wastewater discharge from Eddy’s.
The Planning Commission had only recommended three conditions and those will still be included as part of the permit. The first of those three conditions establishes that the permit is for constructing 72 units made up of 64 hotel rooms and eight cabins. The redevelopment will also include a restaurant, pool, meeting rooms, maintenance facility and large subsurface sewage treatment system based on the final site plan. Eddy’s, which has been closed for some months now in preparation for the project, has been operating a 78-unit hotel and restaurant.
Condition 2 just requires that construction may not occur until all necessary permits are obtained. Demolition must include removal of sheds and the driveway.
Condition 3 is that the permit applicant must work with the county public works director to develop a signage plan for pedestrian and vehicle safety on County Road 35. The applicant must pay for the signage and pavement markings.
Commissioner Wilhelm mentioned the municipal wastewater treatment project completed in Wahkon in the mid 1970s as a reason why he is concerned about treated wastewater from the planned new Eddy’s wastewater facility raising the water table on nearby private property. Wilhelm noted that he has heard private property owner complaints about a higher water table on land near Wahkon since the Wahkon facility was built.
McPherson said the situation regarding higher water levels near Wahkon is “complicated.” During the Dec. 17 board discussion, McPherson cautioned commissioners about comparing the Wahkon treatment facility situation to the Eddy’s plan. It would be comparing “apples and oranges,” McPherson said.
McPherson had also been asked by the board to research if the planned new Eddy’s wastewater plant would result in its treated wastewater flowage reaching the Rocky Reef Resort area.
McPherson studied the elevation contours and provided various aerial maps with elevations for the board on Dec. 17 to support her statements that the Eddy’s treated wastewater would not reach the Rocky Reef Resort area.
McPherson also said with the natural topography of the Eddy’s area, and the fact that there are two state highway culverts and two county culverts to carry drainage, the planned Eddy’s treatment facility wouldn’t impact nearby private land.
“It is unlikely that the Minnesota Department of Transportation or Mille Lacs County Public Works will allow these culverts to become blocked,” she said.
McPherson also noted that the treated discharge from the Wahkon wastewater facility is 120,850 gallons per day versus the proposed 18,300 gallons per day at the planned Eddy’s facility. She also noted that the Wahkon plant discharge takes place over several weeks in the spring and fall and goes into the adjacent wetland complex that is “subject to blockages due to beaver dams and the like. In addition wetlands across the county are subject to climate changes on a yearly basis (timing and amount of rain, drought, etc.).”
Wilhlem, in pushing for the extra condition on the Eddys’ permit, said that when a private landowner has problems resulting from a development, it is difficult for them to get help from state and federal agencies. The county is the closest agency to those landowners and so that is why the county should be on top of what might happen, Wilhelm said.
Commissioner Dave Oslin, from northern Mille Lacs County, supported Wilhelm in pressing for the extra permit condition. But he was not in favor of having the extra condition in place for as long as 10 years, as Wilhelm suggested.
Oslin instead recommended the extra condition be in effect for five years. Board Chairman Phil Peterson, rural Milaca, asked if Wilhelm and Oslin could reach a compromise. Wilhelm responded by suggesting 7 1/2 years for the extra condition to be in effect.
Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen, whose district runs along the east side of the county extending from Bogus Brook Township on the south to Kathio Township on the north, sided with McPherson to not include the additional condition. McPherson, at that point, emphasized that county staff doesn’t believe monitoring of the wetlands in the Eddy’s area is necessary.
“It’s good to be concerned about private property,” but the county pays McPherson “good money” to research and bring back the board’s requested information, Tellinghuisen said. “They’ve done their homework,” he said of her staff members. Tellinghuisen added that he understands the drainage issues on the north end of the county but said the board “can’t overstep the people we work with. We’ve got to trust them.”
Oslin, supporting Wilhelm, said that if monitoring the water table with a provision for remediation is not made one of the conditions when the permit is issued, “then it is out of our hands” (for recourse).
The board ended up with two motions regarding the Eddy’s permit. The first motion, which failed, was to approve the permit with just the commission-recommended three conditions and not include the mentioned proposed fourth condition. Commissioners Wilhelm, Oslin, and Genny Reynolds (whose district is the city of Princeton) voted no and Tellinghuisen voted yes. Chairman Peterson, who only has to vote to break a tie, didn’t vote on the motion.
The second motion passed, and that was to give the permit for the Eddy’s project with all three of the conditions recommended by the Planning Commission, plus include the fourth condition that Wilhelm and Oslin pressed for and which will be in effect for five years. Tellinghuisen cast the lone no vote, while Oslin, Wilhelm and Reynolds voted yes.
According to McPherson, the Ojibwe Band had at one time set a May 2014 target completion date for constructing the new resort facilities. It doesn’t seem possible that the deadline can be met, she said