Clear cutting shoreline properties is not allowed

Photo by Chad Koenen
A number of local road projects were recently approved by the Otter Tail County Board to seek LRIP funding. Among the projects is one on Airport Road near Henning.

By Robert Williams


A Big Pine Lake resident completed a three-month discussion with the Otter Tail County Planning Commission after taking out an entire ridge during earth moving on his beach without a permit and clear-cutting the area.

“We got several complaints earlier this fall and made him get an after the fact conditional use permit,” said Land & Resource Management Director, Chris LeClair.

The first public hearing was held in September, but was tabled so the applicant and property owner, Douglas Cummings, could work with his engineer Jade Berube of Apex Engineering Group, the city engineer of Perham, along with the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office and their engineer to come up with an acceptable restoration plan.

LeClair, an inspector, Cummings, the two engineers and EOT SWCD District Manager Darren Newville met a week later to come up with a plan.

To give the engineering more time, it was tabled into November, according to LeClair.

“We had a better plan and that came forth in front of planning commission last week,” he said.

An earthen retaining wall was proposed.

“I think that’s a good plan because it makes it look more natural, allows it to be vegetated; it won’t be just retaining wall,” LeClair said.

Clear cutting the entire shoreline is not allowed in the ordinance.

“We’ve taken a pretty generous interpretation of clear cutting in our office, basically, you can clear cut your shoreline as long as you leave one tree,” said LeClair. “He didn’t leave one tree; he took them all.”

LeClair also noted at site inspections that the lot in question was sandwiched between white oak trees on either side. When asked what kind of trees were cut down the homeowner responded with basswood.

“We all questioned,” said LeClair. “The entire shoreline is littered with oak trees and he had the one lot that didn’t have oak trees?”

The planning commission added a condition that a substantial number of a variety of oak trees be planted and approved the restoration plan with other conditions that Berube and LeClair work together on the engineering, and the project must be completed by mid-October 2024.

“This did attract a lot of attention on the lake,” said LeClair. “The lake association reached out to us on several occasions. Unfortunately, because it was a tabled application, we couldn’t speak about it, but we did invite them to come to the meeting last week to give comment.”

The response from lake association representatives was fiery.

“This is probably the most heated controversy I’ve been in the middle of,” said Board Chairman Wayne D. Johnson.

Johnson quoted a comment made by Sylvia Soeth, OTC Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) President.

“Sylvia’s comment was fine the tar out of him,” said Johnson.

LeClair explained that Cummings had an after-the-fact permit that cost $2,000; he had to pay for an engineer and pay for a site restoration plan.

“He’s not getting away with anything,” LeClair said. “He’s got to restore it back to the way it was and replant those trees.”

The case could have been taken to the county attorney’s office for charges, but at most, the charges would be misdemeanors and an approximate $700 fine.

“I think restoration was the proper route to go,” LeClair said. 

“At the end of the day, our job is to protect the resource, not to punish people, and to try to prevent people from doing similar situations,” said Johnson.

The board approved the planning commission’s recommendation with one nay vote from Dan Bucholz, District 1 Commissioner.

Road improvements

The city of Vergas has requested Otter Tail County sponsor their Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) project, since non-state aid cities and townships must have a county sponsor, identified as West Lake Street adjacent to CSAH 17. 

Vergas commits to funding 40 percent of the construction costs, 100 percent of the engineering and all other costs that are not eligible for LRIP funding and will provide future maintenance.

LRIP is being offered through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The Board approved an application to the LRIP for a project in Henning identified as portions of Balmoral Avenue, Marshall Avenue, Railway Avenue, Industrial Drive and Willow Creek Drive.

Henning Township is requesting funding from the LRIP for improvements to a portion of Airport Road – Airport Road from TH 210 to Henning Airport.

Perham Township has requested Otter Tail County sponsor their LRIP project identified as 450th Avenue from 440th Street to CSAH 8.

Court-appointed attorneys

The board approved to continue the agreements and contracts with current court-appointed attorneys Brian Geis and Nikki Kaasa for both the civil and child protection matters and legal services and representation of eligible respondents in Children in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS}, Permanency, and Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases, hospitalization commitment proceedings, certain guardianship/conservatorship, paternity, and Order to Show Cause proceedings.


Otter Tail County accepted the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Aid from the State of Minnesota in the amount of $463,808 for 2023. The proceeds will be used as recommended by the Otter Tail County Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force and in conformity with the requirements of Minnesota Statute.

Public hearing

The board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 10 a.m. on the 2024 proposed countywide fee schedule.