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Scenic Highway to see some changes: Reconstruction project on tap for stretch of County Road 39

BEMIDJI — The scenic Beltrami County Road 39 is poised to undergo some changes.

The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday took the first step toward allowing all-terrain vehicles to drive on the shoulder of the roadway — known as Scenic Highway — keeping ATVs out of the ditches where the Minnesota state flower has been growing.

The board also approved a five-mile reconstruction project for the highway, a popular roadway that runs from east of Cass Lake to Blackduck, in response to a newly acquired federal grant.

Bruce Hasbargen, the county engineer, reported to the board in a work session that the ATV request started with the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway group, which was seeking ways to protect Lady Slippers — the Minnesota state flower — that grow in ditches along the highway.

“I’m in concurrence that that is probably the best place to put them,” Hasbargen said.

The board held the first reading of an ordinance allowing for the change during its regular meeting; three readings are required for adoption. A public hearing, held along with the second reading, is scheduled for March 18.

If adopted, the highway would join 12 other Beltrami County roadways that allow for ATV use on the shoulder, including County Highways 1, 42 and 44; and County Roads 700-707 and 709.

Road work ahead

Hasbargen also informed the board his department received $1.3 million in federal funding through a grant that would allow for the reconstruction of two miles of Highway 39.

“This truly is a project that is shovel-ready,” Hasbargen said, in explaining why believes the application was successful. “We have the plans designed, we have the right-of-way purchased, and all of the wetland permits are ready to go.”

With the grant approval in hand, Hasbargen proposed an amendment to the five-year transportation plan to include a grading and bituminous surfacing project for a five-mile stretch of the highway, from two miles south of County Road 22 to County Road 55.

Kay Mack, the county administrator, noted that the federal grant composes about 26 percent of the $5 million total project cost. Hasbargen said the remainder would come from county sales-tax funds or county state-aid funds.

He explained that he upped the proposal from two to five miles because the roadway is heavily traveled and the detour is extensive.

“It is quite an impact to the residents and businesses out there,” Hasbargen said. “What I’m proposing is to do five miles … We don’t want to do a two-mile project, put up that full detour out there and then come back later in the future and then do another smaller three-mile project.”