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Beltrami County Board: Pilings are a concern for boaters

BEMIDJI — Many boaters who have navigated on the Mississippi River between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji know of the hazardous pilings that stick up from the bottom, but for those who don’t, taking the wrong path could be a costly mistake.

“I have hit them many times, and the last time irritated me so bad that I went out in my own boat, jumped in the water and searched for them,” Roger Heger, a resident on the northern side of Lake Irving, said at Tuesday’s Beltrami County Board meeting.

The pilings were left in the water many years ago by a company that no longer exists. Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said a former dock on Lake Irving was used by the railroad to haul timber out of the water after it had fallen in.

Heger said that he has seen the pilings hit by many of his neighbors, as well as many Bemidji visitors, some of whom have sworn they will not come back to Lake Irving for fear of wrecking their boat motors.

Heger said he knows of three pilings on the Lake Irving side of the channel, but Hodapp said more are likely present.

The County Board discussed the issue, questioning the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on whose responsibility it is to take the pilings out and whether a permit would be required.

Laurie Dowling, the DNR’s Northwest Region director, said no permit is required to remove them, and that since the area falls in the zoning area of the local government, it is its responsibility to remove the pilings, not the DNR’s.

Hodapp said the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for water safety, but specifically it is required to mark hazardous objects in the water.

The pilings are not marked, except for one that Heger marked with two milk chugs after he hit them.

Dowling said the county can put in a written request to the DNR to remove them, but she said it may be quicker for the county to remove them, because she does not know which crew could remove them.

Heger said the pilings do not seem to be very sturdy in the bottom of Lake Irving. He thinks a chain could handle the job.

Hodapp said the pilings have been an issue for several years, but because of the water level being so far down this year, his office seems to be getting more complaints.

County Board Chairman Quentin Fairbanks said the county would make the written request to the DNR, as well as write a letter to the city of Bemidji, before deciding how to solve the issue.