9/5/2013 10:55:00 AM State moves to shut down Welch campground
by Ken Haggerty
The Minnsota Department of Health (MDH) has filed an action to require Cory Axelson, the owner and operator of Hidden Valley Campground in Welch, to cease operation of the camping area.
The MDH filed the action in Goodhue County District Court in Red Wing on August 5.
Hidden Valley has been under pressure from Goodhue County health and zoning officials and the State for a while, with pressure picking up after a May 2011 MDH inspection which found nine violations and a November 2011 County action to revoke the conditional use permit for Hidden Valley. The license granted by the State to operate the Campground expired at the end of 2011.
The County and State had concerns about the number of campsites and the sewage system. Concerns were also raised about proximity to the riverbank, garbage maintenance, and the number of Sheriff's calls to the grounds. Evacuation plans were also an issue.
The County's conditional use permit revocation was overturned in the Minnesota Court of Appeals on August 13, 2012. The Appeals Court said the County, which used too many campsites as a reason for revoking the permit, had no solid evidence on the number of campsites in use. In that Appeals opinion, it was noted that the MDH issues would have to be resolved. MDH told Axelson on an August 21, 2012 visit that he would need to complete an unfinished sewage system, among other things, before getting a license.
MDH says they received information that the Campground was operating shortly after that visit. They visited the campground on September 8, 2012 and verified the information and let Axelson know he was in violation.
Axelson said in a letter to MDH that he was working on the sewage system and that water, electricity and bathrooms were all functional. He said some RV owners had helped clean up the campgrounds.
On April 9, 2013, MDH fined Axelson $10,000 for operating in 2012 without a license and instructed he refrain from any further operation.
On May 13, 2013, Axelson wrote MDH and asked for a contested case hearing and said his operations in 2012 were limited to four or less sites used on a temporary basis and hence didn't need licensing. That contested case is ongoing.
On May 24, 2013, MDH received a complaint that the Hidden Valley Campground was preparing to open again. Goodhue County Sheriff's Office responded to a loud music complaint at Hidden Valley that night at 11:30 p.m. They observed more than 20 tents, 20 hard-sided campers and many people at campsites.
A flood of the Cannon River on the weekend of July 13, 2013 prompted another complaint to the MDH. The complaint said lawn chairs and other camping gear were floating down the river. An inspection on July 16 found some roads still flooded and some RVs in areas which had been flooded. Personal items, garbage, inner-tubes and other items were strewn throughout the campground.
On July 27, 2013, Goodhue County obtained a search warrant to search the campground and Axelson's home with MDH. They found more than 100 occupied campsites. Action to force shutdown was taken shortly after.
A motion hearing is scheduled for September 9.
Axelson says the State seems to be working at the County's bequest and that the County seems to have a personal vendetta against him. He said search warrants looking for evidence of garbage, dust, decks with no railings and trailers without tabs are tantamount to harassment search warrants. Axelson said they had a good Labor Day weekend and will stay open as long as weather permits.