Renville County off-highway vehicle park ‘feasible’

OLIVIA -- It appears feasible for Renville County to develop an off-highway vehicle park on a 272-acre site near the Minnesota River.Andy Brandel, with I + S Group of Fairmont presented the findings Tuesday to the Renville County Board of Commiss...

OHV Park
The area outlined in red is the proposed off-highway vehicle park. Also shown are affected residents along Renville County Road 15 in Sacred Heart Township of Renville County. (SUBMITTED)

OLIVIA - It appears feasible for Renville County to develop an off-highway vehicle park on a 272-acre site near the Minnesota River.
Andy Brandel, with I + S Group of Fairmont presented the findings Tuesday to the Renville County Board of Commissioners.
I + S Group worked with Great Outdoors Consultants of Fort Collins, Colorado, and the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council in Great Falls, Montana, on the first phase of a two-phase study to examine the proposal for a county-owned OHV park in Sacred Heart Township.
The consultants recommend the county undertakes the second phase of the $129,929 study. The second phase would include an environmental assessment worksheet - a screening tool to evaluate the potential for environmental harm - and look at ways to mitigate a variety of issues involved with the site, as well as provide a cost estimate for development.
An initial estimate had pegged the costs for acquiring the property and developing trails at $1.3 million, but Brandel noted that there are currently “no hard figures’’ on what it would cost.

The commissioners will decide at their Dec. 15 meeting whether to move forward with the rest of the study and a project that has faced strong opposition from residents in the affected area.
Brandel told the commissioners that the environmental assessment worksheet would be the next step in the process, and that a study would need to look at how to address stormwater runoff issues as well as traffic concerns. There is traffic from gravel mining and farming activities in the area. The proposed site is bisected by Renville County Road 15, part of the Minnesota Valley Scenic Byway, and it intersects with 200th Street.
Brandel emphasized that buffers and other steps would be needed to address a host of issues raised by neighbors, who are concerned about noise, dust, trespassing and what the park would do to property values as well as the scenic attributes of the river valley area.
The county should go forward with developing the park “if and only if the design is such that the neighbors’ (concerns) and potential impacts are mitigated,’’ said Brandel.
Neighbors of the site told the commissioners that they do not believe the impacts can be mitigated. They urged the commissioners to stop spending money on it
The residents said they expected the consultants’ study to favor the park’s development, one pointing out that Great Outdoor Consultants and the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council are actively involved in park development. “You paid $60,000 to get an outcome that you anticipated,’’ said resident Norm Westby.
Westby said the county has used grant money to pay for the study, and is counting on receiving grant money to eventually purchase the property and develop trails. At some point the county will be obligated to invest its own dollars in maintenance and operational costs. “At what point are you willing to do real maintenance to it or, as Andy indicated, are you going to let it slide,” he said.
Westby was also among those who said they do not believe the park would provide the hoped-for economic benefits. He cited its rural location away from communities, as well as its limited size. It could not offer enough miles of trail to compete with areas of northern Minnesota where off-highway vehicles have access to hundreds of miles of trail, he said.
The park would be bordered by active gravel pits on its north and south sides. Residents questioned whether the park could be developed when the operations might expand into the park area.
Judy and Dick Taylor’s home would be bordered on three sides by the park. They told the commissioners it would destroy the quiet and scenery they purchased the property to enjoy. “It’s gorgeous,’’ Judy Taylor said, “but it’s not going to be.’’
Wayne Zaske, whose property would also be bordered by the park, questioned why the county would want to take on the ongoing costs of the park. He also raised questions about the county’s ability to purchase the land needed, and said some of that land is enrolled in perpetual easement programs.
The owners of the property are willing to sell it but have not committed to do so in writing, according to Mark Erickson, director of environment and community development for Renville County.
Tom Kalahar, retired conservationist, told the commissioners that there is no way to develop the park and protect the river valley environment there, and that the park would be far costlier to develop than the county is expecting. “There is no way you are going to protect this landscape from erosion or negative impacts to wildlife,’’ he said.
Two people attending the meeting said they supported the project and urged the county to authorize the second phase of the study. “Let the science show. Get the (environmental assessment worksheet) done and see where it leads us,’’ said Loran Kaardal, director of Green Corridors, a nonprofit organization that promotes recreational opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley. 

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