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February 28, 2020

Campground permit revoked by county

by Paul Martin

Time ran out for Cory Axelson, owner of Hidden Valley Campground in Welch, at the Goodhue County Board meeting on November 15. Commissioners voted unanimously to revoke the permit for the popular, second-generation family campground on the banks of the Cannon River. The Board had considered three options at its October 18 meeting, but withheld action at that time. Revoking the permit was the strongest option, though they could have chosen instead to add extra conditions to the existing permit, or to impose an enforcement order. Those actions would have given Axelson until March 31, 2012 to make the needed improvements.

Now that the permit has been revoked, County Attorney Steve Betcher confirmed that Axelson will have to comply with current regulations in order to reopen, rather than being "grandfathered in" to the old requirements.

Long History of Problems, Board Hears

Lisa Hanni, County Land Use Manager, had outlined the reasons for withdrawing the campground's permit. They covered a wide range of alleged failures over a 20-year history to maintain hygienic facilities in the camp, and to manage it effectively. Plans have been in process to provide a sewage system that meets minimum requirements for some years, but have not been completed. Holding tanks have been installed, but no pumps or drainage field. Toilet and bathing facilities also need upgrades, and garbage needs to be managed better. All buildings need to be moved back 150 feet or more from the riverbank.

On the management side, campsites need to be properly numbered and assigned, so that the sheriff's office and other emergency responders can find campsites and individuals effectively. The management has been a constant source of complaints from neighbors, who complain of unruly behavior, crime and underage drinking. Betcher added another condition to the list, a failure to enforce a 200-site limit.

Axelson Pleads for Time

to Comply

Minneapolis attorney Dan Schleck, representing Axelson, asked to table action until January. The winter period, in which there is no camping, gives time for action. "Mr. Axelson wants to work with the county," he said, "and is willing to commit to a timetable of no more than 12 months for completion of the sewage treatment work."

Schleck said he had been in discussion with county staff since the October meeting, and he and Axelson had a conference call with senior county staff on November 14 to form a plan of action. He noted that last year's floods had been a major challenge, as 60 feet had been eroded from the riverbank. He also said that, although there were 44 calls to the sheriff in the 2010 season, there were less than half that many in 2011.

Board Votes to

Revoke Permit

For the Board, Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said he was not hostile to the campground. "Some people want the campground to go away," he said. "I don't. I want to see it come back, and be compliant, period. There are businesses in Welch that rely on this campground."

Sympathy was put aside, however, as the Board's patience was exhausted. They voted four to zero to withdraw Axelson's permit.

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