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Voyageur's Best Features of 2006

Minnewawa

Minnewawa residents want their docks back
 
Shamrock Township’s riparian lands in dispute
 
by Angie Johnson  |  July 18, 2006
 

There were no easy answers at the Shamrock Township special meeting on riparian lands held Monday, July 10. Over 70 parcels of land adjacent to the lakes in the township are designated as public lands. An Aitkin County ordinance from 2000 gave Aitkin County the authority to regulate these lands and states that docks and the storage of watercraft are prohibited in these areas. Trapping is also illegal; the only wildlife to be removed from these lands are fish by angling. However, a Minnesota bill passed in the latest legislative session repealed the county’s authority and gave it back to the townships.

“Whoever deeded the area back in 1917, deeded certain parts of the platted area to the public to have forever,” said State Senator Linda Scheid. Linda represents Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, but was summoned by frustrated Lake Minnewawa residents. Linda has had a cabin on Minnewawa for 55 years, though she is not directly affected by the county ordinance.

When portions of the land around the lakes were surveyed, residents who were illegally using riparian lands by their homes to put their docks in were forced to remove those docks. “It was discovered on Lake Minnewawa, especially, that there were docks on lands dedicated to the public,” said Mark Jacobs, Aitkin County Land Commissioner, who was not present at the meeting. “They had to be removed.”

Because surveying is expensive, the lands around Lake Minnewawa and Big Sandy Lake were surveyed in a hit or miss fashion. Whether or not there are still illegal docks is unknown and probably won’t be known for some time. Mark said Aitkin County had money budgeted to do more surveying in the next few years, but with the passing of the new Minnesota law, it is no longer the county’s responsibility to regulate.

“This is the most frustrating issue that I’ve ever had brought before me,” Linda said. “The most frustrating thing is, how can you treat everyone equitably?”

One of biggest issues is, who is responsible for the maintenance of these lands? “It’s owned by all of us, but no one individually is responsible for it,” Linda said.

Shamrock Township chairman Ron Smith said some of the public accesses are currently maintained by the DNR, Shamrock Township, or both. Other lands are maintained only when some individual comes along and does it.

“If we can’t put our docks out, why should we take care of it?” asked Carrie Greene, a frustrated Minnewawa resident who was forced to remove her dock from a riparian land parcel. “Our sole purpose is to be able to put our docks out. Somebody’s got to be able to do something.” 

“We are as frustrated as you all have been,” said Shamrock Township Supervisor Nancy Karjalahti.

The township has two years to come up with a plan and pass an ordinance regulating these lands, but they would like to get it done much sooner than that.

“It’s not just Minnewawa,” Ron said. “We would like a comprehensive plan that covers all the lakes.”

Residents volunteered to be on a committee to work with the township board in developing a plan. “I just think it’s very important to get it back to the township level,” said Jeff Schoenbauer, a resident who volunteered for the committee. “The township needs these properties for the future.”

The committee needs to decide how to regulate access to the lands fairly, who should maintain them, and what they will be used for. Ideally, the township board would like to see some of the land gathered up and used for public swimming beaches and fishing piers. “There has to be some public access to these parcels,” said Linda. In addition, some of the lands will be used by the DNR.

The committee will have to be forward-thinking; Ron said that in several years, some of these lands may need to be used for sewer pump stations. The biggest first step will be to go to Aitkin County so that the committee knows how to go about meeting the township’s future goals and needs. “We don’t know how things lie,” Ron said.

“Not every one of these parcels is going to be utilized,” Nancy said. “We are going to have people who are going to be mad at us, but we have to use common sense.”

The first riparian lands committee meeting has been scheduled for Monday, July 31, 9 a.m. at Shamrock town hall.

This article first appeared in the July 18 issue of the Voyageur Press.