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Proposed Chippewa County park concerns new western Minnesota landowners

A family from Madison, South Dakota, purchased land near the Minnesota River unaware of Chippewa County's plans for a park on adjoining land. They believe the park will disrupt their plans for camping and hunting and adversely affect the value of their property and question whether an access road to the park can be developed along their land.

TamaraFenderIMG_3116.jpg
Tamara Fender told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners and members of the county's park board about the concerns she and her husband, Hodge, have about plans by the county to develop a park near the Minnesota River south of Montevideo. The couple purchased land there unaware of the county's plans for the park, according to Fender. Behind her are members of the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners at the June 21, 2022, meeting.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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MONTEVIDEO — A property owner has raised concerns about plans by Chippewa County to develop a county park near the Minnesota River south of Montevideo.

Tamara Fender of Madison, South Dakota, told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners on June 21 that she and her husband, Hodge, were unaware of plans by the county to develop the park when they purchased land that adjoins the land the county intends to develop.

Fender told the commissioners that she and her husband believe the park and an access road the county wants to develop for the park will adversely affect the value and their use of the land.

“The park and roadway will diminish our ability to use and enjoy our property,” Fender told the commissioners.

She also cited concerns about a one-megawatt, community solar farm that has been permitted, but not yet developed, on property adjoining their land. Fender said she and her husband only recently learned about the solar farm and are upset they had not been notified about it.

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Like the proposed access road, the solar farm will be located near the site where the family has located a camper and shed as their camping site.

Chippewa County has been working to develop the park for a few years. Last fall, it was awarded a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources grant of roughly $170,000 to acquire property, perform a study on how to restore habitat on part of the land, and to install a fishing pier in a pond on the site.

The county is looking at developing the park on a minimum of 80 acres. It has a purchase agreement with the Dennis Gibson and Vicki Poier families to acquire a 40-acre parcel that the brother and sister have allowed the Montevideo School District to use for outdoor educational programs. It is also looking to acquire an adjoining 40-acre, tax-forfeited property from the state of Minnesota.

The county had also expressed interest in an 11-acre parcel situated along the Minnesota River and directly south of the Gibson/Poier property, where the fishing pond is located. The 11 acres would have provided park access to the river.

The Fenders purchased the 11-acre parcel, along with parcels of 55 acres and 70.5 acres bordering the proposed park property. The Fender land purchase occurred after the county began making plans for the proposed park.

Much of the property the South Dakota couple acquired is enrolled in the Reinvest in Minnesota conservation program. Fender said she and her husband acquired the property after making an offer contingent on access to it from a dirt road leading to U.S. Highway 212.

Shortly after, Fender said the owner of the property told them the northwest corner of the property that they wanted for a campsite had previously been promised to an adjoining landowner in need of a site for a septic system. She said a trade-off was arranged so that the property they purchased included an area along the dirt road and outside of the RIM easements. This site is used for their campsite, she explained.

Fender said she and her husband only learned of the county’s plans for the park when they met with Scott Williams, land and resource manager for the county, to acquire a permit for placing a shed on the property they own. He informed her that the park plans had been in the works for more than a year at that time.

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Fender told the commissioners that she and her husband sunk a significant amount of their retirement savings as well as an inheritance into acquiring their property. They were seeking a quiet, peaceful location where they and their young children could camp and hunt.

“Financially, my husband and I cannot afford to walk away from our investment,” Fender told the commissioners. She indicated they are open to negotiations to resolve their concerns with the county.

Activities at a county park and the access road will disrupt their use of the property, she told the commissioners. She also questioned whether the dirt road that the county intends to use for park access can legally be developed as a road due to restrictions of the RIM program.

The dirt road is the former roadbed for U.S. Highway 212, which was relocated an unknown number of years ago. Piers from a bridge that once carried the highway over the Minnesota River remain at the site.

Williams said the county attorney is researching the easement for the highway. He said it is believed that the easement remains and that the roadbed could be developed for park access.

The land and resource director said the solar farm is an allowed use for the property located north of the land acquired by the Fenders. The county does not send out notifications to adjoining property owners when a permit is sought for an allowed use, he told Fender.

Williams emphasized that the county and its park board want to work with the adjoining landowners and hear their input as plans for the park are formalized. He said the grant funds for the park site will be available to the county next year.

The county is still in the process of developing plans for the park and the access to it. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working with the county with a goal of providing a stocked fishing pond at the park for young anglers.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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