A new type of environmental review will be used for about 490 acres of land considered prime development area.
Spreading across jurisdiction boundaries, the land falls in Crow Wing County and the city of Baxter. Tuesday the county board agreed to delegate authority to Baxter for the review, but not before board members said they were a bit leery of the process.
At issue is using an Alternative Urban Areawide Review, which is an environmental impact assessment that substitutes for either an Environmental Assessment Worksheet or an Environmental Impact Statement.
The AUAR is a type of environmental assessment used to assess potential cumulative environmental effects from future urban development covering a broad geographic area.
The land in question stretches north of Woida Road, south of the Pine Beach Road and is bordered by Highway 371 and Inglewood Drive.
Rod Osterloh, JMS Companies, presented the proposal to the county. How the project may be funded is still in question. Commissioner John Ferrari confirmed there would be no cost to the county with the project. Osterloh suggested major landowners could bear the brunt of the cost with potential contributions from Baxter. JMS Companies controls about 120 acres of the land in question.
The AUAR review takes environmental issues up front so the development concept and plan fit the environment, Osterloh said.
"We end up with a better plan for both the community and the project," he said.
Bonnie Finnerty, county planner, said the county could delegate the authority to do the AUAR or do a joint powers agreement with Baxter. The city of Baxter will then determine if information gathered through the AUAR is sufficient, but the county could comment on any findings.
Board Chairman Terry Sluss said the AUAR process appears solid, but he still had a bad taste in his mouth from the process for the Wal-Mart Super Center. Sluss was in favor of an EIS for that project. Baxter voted against seeking one. Sluss said information now coming up as the Wal-Mart project goes to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for permits could have come out if Baxter had agreed to do an EIS.
"As long as it's an honest report I think it gets the tone of where you want to go," Sluss said, adding if the county could be included in the process it may help repair some of those relations.
Finnerty plans to work closely with Todd Holman, Baxter city planner, on the process. Commissioner Dewey Tautges said he thought the plan made sense.
Sluss said he would like the county to have some say regarding the final acceptance of the AUAR report. Actual development would still go through the county permit process and more information could be requested at that time, Finnerty said.
Commissioner Gary Walters said he had similar concerns but did not see spending money just to keep the city in check. Commissioner Ed Larsen said his comfort level was increased as he learned an outside company was doing the review as recommended with the AUAR proposal.
"If development is going to do the study, it's a little like the fox doing a blueprint of the henhouse," he said.
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