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DNR decides to go ahead with hatchery demo

NEW LONDON -- The former fish hatchery in downtown New London will be demolished.

State Department of Natural Resources representatives spoke Wednesday with the New London City Council. Instead of offering to sell the building as it proposed last week, the DNR said it wants to tear the top portion down and deed the land to the city for open space.

The DNR proposed to tear down the upper level of the building earlier this year and has received eight bids for the project. The lower portion needs to remain and be filled in because it acts as part of the dam on the Mill Pond.

But two people have come forward offering to improve the building so it can remain standing.

Renee Jenniges of Spicer wanted to purchase the building, but the DNR wouldn't sell it because of its relationship to the dam.

A letter sent Wednesday to the city reiterates that point. David Leuthe, DNR regional hydrologist, wrote that if any instability in the embankment is discovered, the DNR will need to access the dam and embankment to make repairs. That could involve removal or alteration of the hatchery, he said.

"Under these severe limitations, it would not be prudent to make any additional investments into the superstructure of the office building," Leuthe wrote.

Skip Wright, DNR area hydrologist, said Wednesday that the dam is classified as "high hazard," which means its failure could result in loss of life. That puts the hatchery in a "high hazard" location, which also makes improvements to it imprudent, Leuthe wrote.

The council's main issue with the building has been its upkeep. The roof needs repair and bricks have been falling off the building. It threatened to condemn the building at one point.

Jenniges offered to make improvements the building, but the DNR said it would not allow her to make major improvements, such as fixing the roof. Last week, the DNR received an offer from a Paynesville man, Daryl Larson, to fix up the building, but it was not accepted.

Mark Friday, DNR building manager for southern Minnesota, said if the city was interested in taking the property, it needs to know it would be limited in its use. No activities that could affect the embankment's stability would be allowed, according to the letter.

"Then why would we ever want to buy the building?" Mayor John Mack asked.

The council agreed that it still wants the DNR to demolish the building's upper level.

Friday said the DNR will probably accept the low bid on the project, which was $48,798. Demolition would occur this winter, but landscaping would need to wait until spring, he said.

Council members and DNR representatives discussed putting up a plaque and pictures about the hatchery in the open space. It was built in 1941 by the Works Progress Administration and was one of two federal fish hatcheries in the state.

Larson, who attended the meeting, said he doubted the DNR's assessment of the situation and called it a "political maneuver."

Jenniges said after the meeting that the decision is "a sad deal," but said it seems like the DNR doesn't want to take any chances.

"Well, I guess all I can say is we fought a good fight," she said.

In other business, the council agreed to examine the feasibility of sharing a zoning administrator/building inspector with the city of Spicer. The New London city clerk acts as zoning administrator and the city hires Mid-Minnesota Development Commission for building inspection. Sharing the position with Spicer could save New London $20,000 to $30,000, city clerk Trudie Guptill said.