Phased septic installation approved for Pickerel Lake RV campground – Park Rapids Enterprise

Michel Solien, owner of Decision Hills Campground on Pickerel Lake, returned to the Hubbard County Planning Commission on Monday, March 25.

In January, the county approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for its controversial recreational vehicle (RV) campground on the shallow, 310-acre lake.

On Monday, Solien requested a change to a condition of the CUP that requires two underground wastewater treatment systems (SSTS) to be installed and subject to inspection before an operating permit is issued.

“I am looking for a way to take a phased approach with the sewer system that will serve the campground,” he told planning commissioners.

The Hubbard County Environmental Services Office (ESO) staff report states: “The applicant would like to be able to begin operations with the campgrounds served by the northern of the two treatment plants and then install the southern treatment plant at a later date when the 1,500 square meters large cabin is constructed or when it is economically feasible to construct the second phase of campsites served by the southern sewage treatment system.”

According to the new CUP application, the location and overall capacity of the SSTS remain unchanged.

ESO staff had no objection to the phased approach and said in their report: “There will be no environmental harm if use of the campsite is permitted under the proposed phased approach.”

Planning Commissioner Tim Johnson asked if Solien could return later and request another change, such as a Phase 3.

ESO director Eric Buitenwerf said yes, depending on the language of the condition.

“The county's primary concern with septic systems is that when it comes to a use that produces wastewater, we want to make sure that the septic system is in place and passes inspection before allowing use,” Buitenwerf said. “This is a default state.”

Commissioner Veronica Andres asked Solien about his schedule.

Solien plans to install the first SSTS this year.

Andres asked if the second one would take place in 2025.

Probably later, Solien replied. “There are 25 campsites. I want to get close to the capacity of the first system before gradually adding new locations and expanding the second system.”

Andres pointed out that there is a sunset clause when applying for an operating license. “Both systems must be installed within the two-year term,” she said, pointing out that his CUP was approved on Jan. 16, 2024, giving him until Jan. 16, 2026.

Buitenwerf said: “We have never issued a phased operating license – not to say we couldn’t.”

Or, he continued: “The wording of the regulation states that the operating license must be obtained within two years before the start of use. It does not say that all use must begin.”

Andres asked, “So does that remain open or undetermined?”

Buitenwerf responded that there was no other condition that dealt with schedules, so it was up to the Planning Commission.

Given the uncertainty over the course of the deal, Johnson said, “I just don't want to put a time limit on it.”

Commissioner Mike Kovacovich agreed, saying, “I’m in favor of keeping it open while this first phase begins.”

Solien also called for “flexibility” when “optimizing” SSTS designs.

Buitenwerf clarified that if capacity allows, Solien could take over primitive campsites and convert them into full-fledged campsites. He noted that Solien is not asking for a change in the number or location of campsites.

“I have no problem,” Buitenwerf said, adding that there is nothing in the CUP preventing Solien from making these changes. Solien still needs to obtain the necessary approvals from ESO.

For example, Solien said he might want to move the cabin into System One or put primitive campsites into System Two once he knows the actual usage after a year of operation.

Buitenwerf said: “That makes sense.”

The Commission noted that the SSTS overseeing this phase must be licensed, installed and pass county inspection before a phase of campground use can proceed. The amendment passed 4-0, with Commissioner Ken Grob absent.

Neighboring property owners submitted five letters to the Planning Commission wondering about the systems' daily capacity, questioning “unclear” mound designs and arguing for the need for a landfill in the first phase.

Decision Hills Campground will be located at 25848 Holly Road on 26.5 acres in Lake Emma Township.

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