An amendment to Beltrami County's shoreland ordinance was approved Tuesday, but not without debate.

During the Beltrami County Board's work session, and extending to their regular meeting, commissioners reviewed progress on shoreland ordinance revisions, a recurring topic the past few years. Meetings and discussions about updating the ordinance date back to 2015, yet the topic hasn't been brought up since November 2018 during a public hearing.

Shoreland along lakes and rivers in Minnesota is managed by township, city and county governments through ordinances based on standards created by the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR states land falling under the ordinance is determined by its proximity to the lake's ordinary high water level.

With the future of the local ordinance still unclear, District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig said some developers are having trouble determining how to build certain structures. Before Tuesday, the ordinance allowed a second structure on a shoreland property of up to 700 square feet. The new amendment, meanwhile, increased the allowed square footage to 1,000.

"If I was in their shoes, I'd want to get some clarity on it one way or another, whether we're for or against it," Gaasvig said regarding developers. "At least people would know. What is the harm in us making that decision?"

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Other commissioners found the process as moving too fast, though, with no dialogue on the subject for the past few months. Additionally, commissioners were concerned over making a decision when Environmental Services Director Brent Rud, who's helming the ordinance matter, was unable to attend the meeting.

"I don't feel comfortable voting on this tonight," District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner said. "It's been eight months, and I honestly don't remember what's been striked from the existing ordinance and what wasn't. I could be in favor of this, because I'm probably getting the most phone calls on this, but I don't want to vote on an ordinance I can't fully remember."

In his remarks, District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson described how these types of changes have been made before, and said "we have made amendments to this particular document in the past. When things have come up, we've dealt with it, so it's not like we're doing something unique."

"To bring this up out of the blue, and make a decision to carve out one little area we're going to decide on tonight, that's not appropriate," District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson said. "We haven't talked about it once in eight months. It's not like we've been discussing it and just not making a decision. We haven't talked about it. I think we should have a broader discussion or wait until Brent is back."

District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick supported the amendment, though, and said every other protection in the ordinance will be there.

"All of the other regulations stay in place," Lucachick said. "They still need to comply with the shoreland ordinance items in it. We're not hurting our lakes."

The amendment passed in a 3-2 vote, with Anderson, Gaasvig and Lucachick in favor, while Olson and Sumner voted against.

U.S. Highway 2 update

Commissioners were also given an informational presentation from the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding proposed updates to U.S. Highway 2. According to MnDOT Project Manager Joe McKinnon, the project mainly focuses on adding reduced conflict intersections to a corridor between the Bemidji and Wilton areas.

Reduced conflict intersections eliminate the opportunity for drivers to cross several highway lanes and make a left turn. Instead, drivers must turn right, travel to a median, and then make a U-turn to go in the desired direction.

McKinnon showed a map of the corridor with reduced conflict intersections at County Highway 9, Eckles Road, Spirit Avenue, Brightstar Road and Theater Lane. McKinnon said a three-year MnDOT study has shown a 100 percent reduction of fatal and serious injury crashes when reduced conflict intersections are built, and a 50 percent decrease in non-serious injury crashes.

The project, funded for 2021, has been met with concern from Wilton and Eckles Township officials, though. At a recent township meeting, McKinnon said Eckles officials would rather have a reduced speed limit or traffic signals used.

McKinnon said MnDOT also received a letter from Wilton's attorney who referenced a state statute where a city has to approve any projects in the city limits. However, McKinnon said MnDOT counsel have stated the attorney is misinterpreting state law and municipal approval isn't needed in this case.

Moving forward, McKinnon said MnDOT representatives plan to meet with Wilton officials on Aug. 12 and with Eckles Township leaders at a later date.