County’s new comprehensive plan gets final board approval

After two years of work, Mille Lacs County has a new comprehensive plan.

The Mille Lacs County Board approved the nearly 100-page document with little discussion on Nov. 19, other than Commissioner Dave Oslin declaring that County Administrator Roxy Traxler went “over and beyond” in her role of helping shepherd the plan’s formation. Oslin also complimented East Central Regional Development Commission (ECRDC) economic development specialist Jordan Zeller and all the citizens who worked on the plan. The county hired ECRDC to facilitate the process of forming the plan.

It began with a survey of the county’s residents on topics for drafting the plan. That was followed by formation of a steering committee and nine citizen task forces. The task forces had a sprinkling, some more or less, of county board members, county department heads and other officials.

The task forces discussed and set goals in Agriculture and Forestry, Environment and Energy, Land Use, Economic Development, Recreation and Tourism, Transportation, Public Safety, Social, Public Health and Quality of Life Programs, and Intergovernmental Relations.

The Land Use part, for example, reflects the many comments from residents expressing a desire for minimal regulations in land use.

The land use goal that resulted, states: “To promote development with an eye to minimizing regulations; preserving private property rights, water and other natural resources; and maintaining our quality of life in accordance with all applicable ordinances, laws, rules and regulations.

The plan emphasizes that the county will “advocate the rights of property ownership, recognizing the primacy of property rights and the sanctity of private property ownership as enunciated in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Sections 7 and 13 of the Minnesota Constitution.”

It goes on to say that the county will uphold those rights and that the right to  obtain private property and “enjoy its use is priority one in Mille Lacs County. Along with this right is the responsbility to ensure that the individual activities of one property owner do not adversely affect another property owner’s rights.”

Public meetings were conducted to give input on various drafts for each topic area, with the plan’s steering committee then making revisions.

The plan is based on a 5-10 year planning period and is intended to be a guide for the county’s decision makers.

The county board is authorized by state statute to form a comprehensive plan primarily for land use planing. With the additional topics, the plan is more comprehensive.

The plan points to the county having grown more than 16.9 percent in a decade, with a population of 26,097 in 2010. It also points to the county’s “abundant assets” including lakes, rivers, forests, U.S. Highway 169 and state highways 23, 95 and 27.

It describes an “available labor source in our residents.” However economic planners in the county have recently been discussing just how much of that labor force has the skills needed for filling job openings in and near the county.

The county is also quite varied in its topography, with Mille Lacs Lake dominating much of the north end of the T-shaped county. The largest part of the lake is in Mille Lacs County, with smaller parts in Aitkin and Crow Wing Counties.

Two state parks (Kathio and Hennepin) along with holdings by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe including the Mille Lacs Casino are features in the county’s north end. Agricluture gains intensity moving south of there, though the number of small farms, especially dairy have dwindled greatly over the past decades.

The comprehensive plan, besides giving county officials and planners a guide, includes some data to ponder.

One chart, for example, compares auto crashes among the counties of Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Sherburne, Aitkin, Isanti, Benton, Morrison and Crow Wing in 2011. Mille Lacs was third lowest at 228. Sherburne, with a population of 89,000 had 1,089 crashes.