In a special meeting on February 17, the Houston City Council passed a resolution to exit the OHV trail agreement that had been made with the DNR. The meeting had only one agenda item, the OHV exit resolution.
Prior to the council discussing and voting on the resolution, the meeting was opened for public comment. Dan Larson, representing the Minnesota 4 Wheel Drive Association, declared he was proud of the good work that had been done over the past 17 years on the trail, but he went on to say he didn’t like the exit plan.
Larson assured the council that his organization would unite with the Minnesota ATV Association and the Minnesota Motorcycle Association to fight the plan. Larson claimed the current situation is normal, pointing to Gilbert Minnesota’s trail experience. According to him, the people of Gilbert also pushed back against the trail, worried that riders would be racing through town and tearing it up. He said nothing like that happened and offered that the visitors that spend the most money in a town are the OHV riders. Larson said he made a point to buy supplies where he recreates.
Larson claimed his club had invested ¼ million in the project and threatened, “We urge caution – you have a lot at stake.” Larson stated that snowmobile groups, national groups, and legislators would all fight such a resolution.
Upon questioning, Larson admitted he was a consultant on government affairs and a lobbyist. (He declared, “But I’m one of the good ones!”)
Steve Westby explained that he felt the DNR didn’t follow the rules. Mayor Scott Wallace noted, “I’ve never seen a feasibility study on this.” This should have been done before purchasing any land.
Larry Connery, former county commissioner, shared that the proposal never went through for approval from the county. They had only approved it for Off-road trucks – not OHVs or 4WDs.
Farmer Cecil Nelson assured Larson that the farmers control the snowmobile trails and would have no qualms shutting them down.
Karla Bloem shared that her primary concern is the DNR’s mishandling of the trail. She claimed a full national environmental review should have been done before the land was bought. Comments made in emails by DNR employees said that the trail would maximize impact on four trails and that the fragile soil was not suitable; in addition, the trails would disturb rattlesnake habitat. Bloem was also concerned about the potential spread of invasive species.
According to Bloem, no resource managers recommended the trail. With less than 3% of the state area, there are more than 40% of the state’s rare species in the area.
The $25,000 environmental assessment that was completed was not properly conducted. Bloem claimed it did not assess motorized vehicles on the trails. She noted that no historical research was done on the area, stating that an ancient limestone kiln was on the site. The 2013 noise test only measured ambient noise on the site; no vehicles were driven in the area. Winds were too strong the day of the test for valid testing.
Bloem also pointed out that Trails Unlimited had said this project would take the highest level of trail building and upkeep. Originally, the group was going to build the trails as a result; now they are no longer available to do the work. When the question was asked who would build it now, the answer was that the city was responsible to find someone.
Mayor Wallace asked Larson if the trail was part of a bigger plan; Wallace questioned the need for a three acre parking lot. Apparently, nearby land had already been developed with trails and a building. It was part of a grant-in-ad application for extension of the trail, but it proved unacceptable for such a grant.
Members of the audience questioned Larson’s claim that his association had invested money in the trail, pointing out that the contract was with the DNR.
As Mayor Wallace closed the public comment portion of the meeting, he informed Larson his interaction with the council was like “chewing out a CSR and then expecting help!”
Cody Mathers stated that the council was not committing to a decision; this would merely enable the exit committee to represent the city to explore options.
Wallace said he’d spoken to Joe Unger of the DNR and been told the project would just sit until the city took a step.
Councilwoman Emily Krage calmly informed the council she felt disrespected since she’d asked for more time and now four days later was expected to vote on the resolution. She wanted more answers and felt the background information included with the resolution contained emotional statements. Krage felt passage of the resolution would be a decision to back out of the project. “This opens up a lot of different doors,” she commented.
Steve Westby made a motion to approve the exit resolution. The motion passed on a roll call vote with Krage opposed. The exit committee consisting of Cody Mathers, Anna Benda, Ron Evenson, Karla Bloem, and Larry Connery will be joined by Scott Wallace and will represent the city in the future regarding the OHV Trail. This committee was appointed by the previous city council.