The Lake of the Woods County Board of Commissioners met in emergency session, once again, on Friday afternoon.
The meeting was called to pass Resolution No. 20-04-01. The resolution was titled “Protecting All Citizens COVID-19.”
The resolution took the matter of closed public water accesses one step further.
It states that the County Board of Commissioners is closing all public accesses to Lake of the Woods and Rainy River, including the DNR controlled Wheeler’s Point and Wabanica landings. These two landings weren’t included in the original closure of county right-of-way controlled accesses in an earlier closure announcement.
The resolution submitted at Friday’s meeting stated “all accesses” would be closed but Commissioner Ed Arenesen, who was attending via teleconference questioned if it should say “public” instead.
The other commissioners agreed to the change in language.
“I think the resorts have done an excellent job of reaching out to anyone who was planning to come up fishing and have worked within the Governor’s guidelines,” said County Attorney Jim Austad.
“But to clear it up, we are asking all retail accesses and private homes to follow these guidelines as well and not try to benefit from this,” he continued.
The issue of closing private accesses had also been discussed at previous meetings. Under the State of Emergency, the Board would have that power, but have yet to pull the trigger on that.
“We want fishing, we want people to come here, but right now is not the time. When this clears up we want them back, and even more,” said Commissioner Jon Waibel.
Commissioner Arnesen, who also owns a resort on the southern shore of Lake of the Woods, commented that he had received a call last night from a person in Park Rapids, MN. He called to ask where he could fish.
“I simply said the accesses are closed,” Arnesen said.
“I was told there were people from southern Minnesota camping at the Wheeler’s Point access last night. That’s illegal, regardless,” said Austad.
“This resolution should help send an appropriate message, that for the time being, stay at home,” Arnesen said.
“I agree. This is what we have to do. I think it’s our only option,” Waibel said.
Matt Grossell (R), District 2A Representative in the Minnesota House of Representatives was also attending the meeting via teleconference.
“You’re behind us on this?” Waibel asked Grossell.
“110 percent,” Grossell responded.
Grossell told the board that he had spoken to Bob Meier, Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Government Relations for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Meier gave his blessing to the closure with Grossell.
“He said you are following the Governor’s parameters exactly,” Grossell told the board.
Grossell also thanked the commissioners for stepping up and addressing the issue.
“This puts the decision on the government. I think it puts less stress on local businesses. People may have issues with the government making this decision, but better us than the local businesses,” Grossell added.
The board went on to pass the resolution unanimously.
“This is about protecting the health of all Minnesotans, not just locals. Someone could travel up here and contract the virus and return home and pass it on,” said Austad.
Austad also pointed out that the resolution included several quotes from state officials to back the board’s decision. One of those quotes was from Kim Pleticha, Assistant Communications Director from the Minnesota DNR:
“The bottom line is this: Folks have to use common sense on what is close to home. This is hard on everyone. All Minnesotans have cherished outdoor activities, but those traditions are going to have to be on hold right now.
The quote went on to say, “To save lives, we need as many Minnesotans to stay at home as possible. The exemptions are meant to narrow and allow for continuation of critical health and safety functions. Although the order doesn’t prohibit traveling for outdoor recreation, the Governor strongly urges all Minnesotans to say close to their primary residences.”
The Resolution also states that Minnesota State officials have said the spirit of the “Stay-At-Home” order is that people not travel outside their “community” to describe where people should be outdoors during the order, even if the letter of the law doesn’t say that.
It goes on to say that DNR officials have begun using the term “community” to describe where people should be outdoors during the order, as in “only in your community.”
The closure of these two additional accesses will take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 3 and will be in effect until further notice. The board plans to revisit the issue at its weekly meetings.
The county provided the NLR with a copy of State Statute 6110.3700: Water Surface Management Standards.
The Statute states in Subp. 9 under Emergencies: “In situations of local emergencies, temporary special controls may be enacted by a county, city or town for a period of not more than 30 days without the commissioner’s approval.”
As mentioned earlier, the DNR commissioner had already been contacted prior to the Resolution passing.
The board planned to have its Public Works department block the accesses and made it clear they would expect law enforcement to enforce the order.
The wording of the resolution that was adopted follows:
The following resolution was offered by Commissioner Joe Grund, seconded by Commissioner Cody Hasbargen and carried as follows: For: Commissioner: Ed Arnesen, Joe Grund, Cody Hasbargen, Buck Nordlof and Jon Waibel; Against: None.
PROTECTING ALL CITIZENS
RESOLUTION NO. 20-04-01
WHEREAS; the COVID-19 Pandemic Virus is impacting the Lake of the Woods County and its’ businesses; and
WHEREAS; Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s office has issued a reminder that the exemption to the Stay at Home order allowing outdoor recreation isn’t a blank check to travel; and
WHEREAS; MN State officials say the spirit of the “Stay-at-Home” order is that people not travel outside their communities for recreation, even if the letter of the law doesn’t state that. That means don’t get on the highway and drive across the state or the country to go fishing; and
WHEREAS; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) officials have started using the term “community” to describe where people should be outdoors during the order, as in “only in your own community”. DNR conservation officers have been using the term and DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen posted it on social media; and
WHEREAS; “The bottom line is this: Folks have to use common sense on what is close to home,” said Kim Pleticha, Assistant Communications Director for the DNR. “This is hard on everyone. All Minnesotans have cherished outdoor traditions, but those traditions are going to have to be on hold right now.”; and
WHEREAS; “To save lives, we need as many Minnesotans to stay at home as possible. The exemptions are meant to be narrow and allow for the continuation of critical health and safety functions. Although the executive order doesn’t prohibit traveling for outdoor recreation, the Governor strongly urges all Minnesotans to stay close to their primary residences,” the statement noted. “If people do go out, they are asked to maintain strict social distancing. Staying home helps protect your neighbors from spreading COVID-19 and also avoids crowding rural medical facilities. A voiding this kind of travel makes us all safer and healthier.”
WHEREAS; Several Minnesota and Wisconsin counties have already taken action urging usually cherished tomists and part-time residents to stay away until COVID-19 passes, saying residents don’t want to be exposed and noting their small-town medical resources are ill-equipped to handle a major outbreak of disease.
WHEREAS; Lake of the Woods County of Commissioners requests all citizens to follow Governor Walz’s “Stay-at Home” order to keep our local citizens and the general public healthy; and
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED; Lake of the Woods County Board of Commissioners, in following Governor Walz’s order and Minnesota Administrative Rules No. 6110.3700, Subpart 9, are closing all public accesses to Lake of the Woods and Rainy River including Wheelers Point and Wabanica, effective Friday, April 3, 2020, at 11 :59 p.m. until further notice, which will be addressed at weekly COVID-19 meetings.
Commissioners: Ed Arnesen, Joe Grund, Cody Hasbargen, Buck Nordlof, Jon Waibel
Signed, Jon Waibel, County Board Chair
I certify that this is a true and complete copy of the original thereof, which is on file and of record in the Office of the County Auditor/Treasurer, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
DATED at Baudette, Minnesota this 3rd day of April 2020.
Signed Lorene Hanson, County Auditor/Treasurer