Highway 45 bridge is now closed near Phelps Mill

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

People coming to the 2023 Phelps Mill Festival from the south, west and east will see signs directing them to alternative routes compared to prior years. This will be due to bridge work on Highway 45, just south of Phelps Mill Park and north of County Highway 1.  ¶  This year’s festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, July 8-9. Needed route changes were addressed by county commissioners on Tuesday morning, June 13.  ¶  Drivers heading eastward from Fergus Falls along Highway 1 will see signs directing them to turn left onto Highway 35, driving northward from the old Barnard School at the intersection of Highways 1 and 35.  ¶  Those drivers will travel north on Highway 35, past West Lost Lake, and then turn east onto Highway 74, heading to the town of Maine and then going south on Highway 45 to Phelps Mill.  ¶  County commissioners and county Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard said they will work with county employees to make sure signs are clear with the correct information to get visitors safely to this year’s Phelps Mill Festival in early July.

Other Phelps Mill news from July 13

Friends of Phelps Mill addressed the county board and requested county taxpayer support for a promotional sign along the highway and close to the park.

“We have a unique park that is a real treasure here in Otter Tail County,” said Friends of Phelps Mill spokesperson Jim Ackre. “Our organization has continually worked as volunteers, since 1993, to help promote and preserve Phelps Mill.”

The county board, through Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard, will have a committee look at this and get back to the county board with a recommendation.

Ackre also requested board approval for use of the former flour mill office for additional needs of Friends of Phelps Mill members. The county board agreed, noting that Friends volunteers do much in answering questions about flour mill processing, showing videos, conducting tours and selling merchandise to visitors.

“We do well in signing up new members, even those who live out of state,” Ackre said. “Friends of Phelps Mill can stay in touch with those members through emails.”

A popular concept is selling bags of flour similar to those sold back in the 1930s.

“In the future we’d also like to see farming operations for visitors inside the park boundaries, and point out to visitors how this was tied to operation of the mill between 1889 and 1939,” Ackre added. 

County board members, in 2019, approved the purchase of 71.8 acres of land just north of the current Phelps Mill Park. This more than doubles the park from the original 51.2 acres.

County-owned building in Fergus under lease

County Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard told the county board on June 13 that the former Daily Journal building, owned by the county next to Pebble Lake Road in Fergus Falls, is being leased through October 2023.

The building was used until recently by the county license center and county land and resource office while renovations to those two departments were being made at the County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls.

It’s likely that the county will be able to sell the building by the end of 2023 to an organization that, after making renovations, will lease the former Daily Journal building to governmental agencies.

County government purchased the building at 914 East Channing Avenue, Fergus Falls, in 2022.

For the short term, in 2022 and into 2023, the building on the east side of Fergus Falls near Minnesota Motor Company on Pebble Lake Road was occupied by county employees who work for the Motor Vehicle and Land and Resource departments.

Revised sanitation code approved

County board members, after input from county residents in previous months, approved a revised county sanitation code on June 13. This followed the recommendation of county Land and Resource Management Director Chris LeClair.

The code is in place to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare by the discharge of adequately treated sewage to the groundwater via the proper location, design, installation, use and maintenance of individual sewage treatment systems.

 These environmental protection standards are administered throughout Otter Tail County by the county Land and Resource Management Department, adhering to Minnesota rules and statutes.

One example of an amendment in recent years was reducing the amount of original soil for mound systems from 24 inches to 12 inches. This brought Otter Tail County into conformity with statewide rules.

The effective date, with new changes to the county sanitation code, will be Jan. 1, 2024.