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Landowners spar with county, state agencies over Roseau Lake flood mitigation project

The Roseau Lake project was developed to reduce flooding in the lake’s basin and to improve waterfowl, fish and other species.

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One of two 50-foot trailers members of the Roseau County Landowners Coalition is parked Tuesday, July 28, in Roseau, Minn., opposing a flood control and wildlife project proposed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Roseau River Watershed District. Submitted photo

ROSEAU, Minn. – As plans for flood mitigation along the Roseau River move forward, some landowners remain concerned about the project.

The Roseau County Landowners Coalition, made up of about 50 members, believes a project to reduce flooding in the basin of Roseau Lake will result in inundation of thousands of acres of their farmland. The landowners also complain that the Roseau River Watershed District and other agencies involved in the project have not been transparent about the way they are handling it.

The Roseau Lake project was developed to reduce flooding in the lake’s basin and to improve waterfowl, fish and other species. Roseau Lake, which was drained in the early 1900s for agricultural purposes, frequently floods – most recently in fall 2019, when the water rose to more than 1,037 feet above sea level and flooded unharvested crops, according to the Roseau River Watershed District website.

The Minnesota Legislature appropriated around $2.8 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund for the Roseau Lake flood mitigation project in 2016, Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Chairman Mark Wiliam Johnson wrote in an August letter to the Grand Forks Herald.

The Legislature established the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to provide lawmakers with funding recommendations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is one of four funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

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The coalition members believe they have been left out of the loop about Roseau Lake meetings and project updates, said Melanie Benit, Institute for Justice activism manager. The Institute for Justice is a national, nonprofit organization that has worked since last summer with coalition members to help them voice their concerns.

“We are trying to ask for transparency for the project. ... We are asking the watershed district to work with the public and landowners going forward,” Benit said.

But Tracy Halstensgard, Roseau River Watershed District administrator, believes the district and other agencies have informed landowners and the public about project developments.

“We have an email list of people who have requested information. We have hard-copied various things to the landowners on record,” Halstensgard said. Meanwhile, the RRWD has held public meetings, done radio interviews, published information in newspapers and posted information on social media sites, she said.

“I don’t know what else they are expecting,” Halstensgard said.

But landowners believe they have still been recently “cut out of the process,” said Chad Reese, Institute for Justice policy activism manager.

“The watershed board voted to adopt an operating plan, but didn’t consult with the landowners or project work team,” Reese said. The project work team has requested that they be able to comment on the plan, he said.

Halstensgard disputed Reese’s claim, saying that only a draft of the operating plan has been accepted.

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“The board has not adopted the operating plan,” she said. “The project team operates at the board’s discretion. I don’t really know what more the board can do.”

The Roseau Lake project continues to be developed, and ultimately, the Roseau River Watershed District board will decide how the project moves forward, Halstensgard said.

Related Topics: ROSEAU
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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