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Township board soundly rejects Long Lake annexation plan

DETROIT LAKES -- The proposed annexation of half of Long Lake, located about a mile west of here in Detroit Township, was soundly rejected Tuesday by the Detroit Town Board.

DETROIT LAKES -- The proposed annexation of half of Long Lake, located about a mile west of here in Detroit Township, was soundly rejected Tuesday by the Detroit Town Board.

Not only did the board vote 3-0 to reject an orderly annexation agreement approved earlier by the city, it went a step farther and approved a resolution asking the city to let Long Lakers vote on whether they want to be annexed, and to abide by the majority vote.

Annexation opponents at the contentious two-hour meeting applauded the board vote, which sets the stage for a state-sanctioned mediation process with Detroit Lakes. An estimated 40-50 people attended the meeting.

Most of the proposed annexation area -- more than 600 acres that includes the Detroit Lakes Airport -- is in Detroit Township. The southernmost sliver of the contested area, about 29 acres, is in Lakeview Township.

"If we thought annexation was a good deal, we wouldn't be here raising our hands (to speak) -- that's the bottom line," said Bill Schwarz, who lives on Long Lake.

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Dick Carr of Long Lake said a solid 66 percent of lake residents now join him in opposing annexation.

"Our feeling is there is nothing to mediate," he said. "We ask the city to withdraw its petition for annexation, or at least allow the citizens of the area to have the opportunity to do the grand old American thing and have a vote."

Most who spoke at the meeting opposed annexation, chiefly because of the cost.

Cheryl Barsness said she calculated that all expenses associated with annexation would cost her family $59,000 over 20 years.

"That cost is too high," she said. "We're going to retire during that time, we're going to send a child to college -- we can't afford it."

Carr said he had confirmed earlier statements that his costs would run to $56,000 over 20 years.

But several residents spoke in support of annexation. Brad Refsland argued that city sewer and water would improve the water quality of the long, narrow lake.

A majority of residents favored annexation, based on the initial petition that was circulated, he said.

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"People change their minds, but I think a lot of the people that changed their minds were not given accurate information ... I don't think that's fair," he said, adding that city cost estimates have not changed from two years ago.

"I favor annexation, too," said Paul Sukke, who reminded the crowd that lake residents have been grappling with the issue of sewer and water versus septic systems for a half dozen years.

Others lambasted the original petition, saying it was disguised as a survey on potential improvements, and that they prefer their septic systems.

Township board members did not hide their distaste for the annexation proposal.

"We have heard from far too many people who obviously didn't get the facts," said board Chairman John Tigges, who mused aloud about the possibility of court delays.

"How long would it take the court system to process 122 individual lawsuits against the annexation?" Tigges asked township attorney Carl Malmstrom, who said he couldn't respond to that kind of question.

Township officials said they'd surrender to the city without a fight if a vote revealed that a majority of Long Lakers favored annexation.

If the city and township cannot come to terms using a mediator, the issue will be decided by an administrative law judge or in binding arbitration, Malmstrom said.

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Bowe is editor of The Detroit Lakes Tribune, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.

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