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Split vote to seek grant funds moves OHV park ahead in Renville County, Minn.

OLIVIA -- Renville County's Board of Commissioners gave county staff the go-ahead Tuesday to seek grant funds to develop an off-highway vehicle park.

The commissioners voted 3-2 at their meeting to authorize the process of applying for federal and state grant funds for the park. Both supporters and opponents of the proposal filled the meeting room Tuesday in Olivia as the commissioners discussed the issue.

It will cost an estimated $1.3 million to acquire property and develop the park. The county's cash and in-kind share of costs could be 10 percent of the total, according to Mark Erickson, director of community development and environment.

Two landowners have offered to sell adjoining parcels of 157 acres and 115 acres in sections 22 and 23 of Sacred Heart Township. The area is east of the Enestvedt Seed Farm and bisected by Renville County Road 15, part of the Minnesota Valley Scenic Byway route.

Commissioners LaMont Jacobson, Paul Setzepfandt and Bob Fox voted to go ahead with seeking funds for the park. Commissioners John Stahl and Ralph Novotny voted no.

Stahl said he had heard from people who thought the issue had come up quickly and did not feel they had the opportunity weigh in. He pointed to concerns about environmentally sensitive lands near the site, as well as noise and safety issues raised by some neighbors. He urged that the county's Soil and Water Conservation District and University of Minnesota staff versed in environmental issues be included in the planning process.

Erickson said the intent is to obtain professional design help. He is hopeful that Mary Vogel, a trail planner with the University of Minnesota School of Landscape Architecture, will assist the county.

Erickson said there will be opportunities for public input on the proposal as the process moves forward. His concern is to meet deadlines for grant applications at the end of February and early March. If they were missed, the county would have to wait another year to begin the application process, he explained.

He and others also pointed out that the county has the option to not pursue the park at any point in the process. It will require an environmental assessment worksheet -- a questionnaire about the project's environmental setting, the potential for environmental harm and plans to reduce the harm -- and the county also would need to approve a conditional use permit for the park to be developed.

The park is proposed by the Minnesota Valley Trail Riders and has the support of the Sacred Heart Township board of supervisors and Tatanka Bluffs Corridor, a group promoting recreational development in Renville and Redwood counties.

The park is proposed to mainly occupy an area of exhausted gravel pits that were never reclaimed and subject to erosion. Proponents argue the park will provide a much desired recreational activity for the region and provide economic opportunities.

Opponents cite noise and safety concerns, as well as the proximity of environmentally sensitive lands.

The commissioners did not open the floor to discussion, but at previous meetings it was evident that neighbors near the site are divided, with some opposed and others favoring it.

Commissioner Jacobson, who represents the area, made the motion to move ahead. Commissioner Setzepfandt, of Bird Island, offered the second. Setzepfandt had cited his concerns about the possible costs to the county for the park. He also noted that opportunities are still ahead for comment and a final decision. "Let's give it legs now and see where it goes,'' he said when making the second to the motion.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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