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Roseau River Watershed District votes to move forward with Roseau Lake Project

Operation, maintenance and access plans for the Roseau Lake Project have been approved, meaning the project will continue, despite criticism from local landowners.

Roseau River Watershed District.JPG
The Board of Managers voted to approve the operation, maintenance and access plans for the Roseau Lake Project at their regular meeting on Nov. 3 at the Roseau River Watershed District Office in Roseau, Minn. (Ingrid Harbo/Grand Forks Herald)
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ROSEAU, Minnesota -- Operation, maintenance and access plans for the Roseau Lake Project have been approved, meaning the project will continue, despite criticism from local landowners . At the regular meeting of the Roseau River Watershed District Board of Managers on Nov. 3, the board voted to approve the plans for the project, allowing it to move to the next step: a joint powers agreement between the Roseau River Watershed District and the state of Minnesota.

The project seeks to mitigate flood risk in the Roseau River Watershed District , as well as restore the area’s wetland habitats and improve water quality in the watershed. It has received criticism from local landowners, who say the proposed system of dikes will make farmland near the project unusable. In response to the project, the Roseau County Landowners Coalition was created to try to stop the project. The coalition is made of around 50 landowners who live and farm in the area near the Roseau Lake Basin.

Seventy-five percent of the project will be funded by the state because of its focus on natural resource enhancement. The other 25% will be funded by The Red River Watershed Management Board Funds, the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and local funds.

Mitch Magnusson, a member of RCLC, believes the board is focusing too much on resources, and not enough on people. While a focus on natural resource enhancement provides the board with extra support from the state to use for the project, he says it is doing so at the expense of landowners. He brought forward his concerns at the meeting while speaking as a delegate.

“If you continue down this road, who in this room wants to take financial responsibility for any damages this project could do?” asked Magnusson at the meeting.

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The board did not respond to the question, saying it was rhetorical.

When the board was discussing whether to approve the operation, maintenance and access plans for the project, Magnusson claimed that Randy Prachar, Minnesota DNR Roseau River Wildlife Management Area manager, drafted the operation plan without the input of landowners like himself.

Prachar said there was a 30-day window where the board was accepting written comment about the operating plan. He said he saw all of the comments submitted during that time.

Nathan Dalager, associate vice president of HDR Engineering, said that most of the operating plan was included in the last engineers report for the project, which was published in June 2019, making it publicly available for more than two years. He reassured Magnusson that while the operating plan had reached a point where the project can move forward, it will continue to be a work in progress.

“This is a living document that this board will continue to manage going forward,” said Dalager. “It’s time to move forward with this topic, but at the same time know that there’s a very healthy listening group here that has taken feedback and input and adapted to it in many ways.”

The Board of Managers faced criticism at the meeting for a recent decision to stop streaming Watershed District meetings online. Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, the board was required by an executive order to provide access to meetings online. Meetings were streamed using WebEx, but were often riddled with technical difficulties, especially with sound. Before the Nov. 3 meeting, the board announced they would no longer host meetings online, but meetings would be open to the public in person at the location listed in the agenda.

The board also announced that any individual who wants to address the board during meetings now needs to be on the agenda as a delegate. A 10-day notice is required to be added to the agenda, but meeting attendees can request to be added to the agenda at the discretion of the chairman.

On Nov. 2, Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit that works with RCLC to support their cause, sent out a press release addressing these changes.

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“To call this move a ‘lack of transparency,’ massively understates the audacity of RRWD’s decision,” said Chad Reese, Institute for Justice assistant director of activism, in the release.

Carter Diesen, Roseau River Watershed District chairman, said the board stopped streaming meetings because they were no longer legally required to.

The Nov. 3 meeting ended with a closed session about land acquisition in regards to the Roseau Lake Project.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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