MERRIFIELD -- Opposing views about business growth and the former Kenny's Oil site are stirring up political dust in Merrifield.
George Burnard, 27-year Lake Edward Township Board member, is facing a write-in challenge from Ron Rydh, who has been a member of the Lake Edward Township Planning Commission since it began in 1997.
"There is quite an issue," Burnard said.
He said the "hubbub" started after a split vote regarding the possible purchase of the land where the former Kenny's Oil stood.
The former Kenny's gas station/convenience store was torn down last year, leaving a decision on what to do with the land. The site was on the state's clean-up list after Kenny's Oil gas tanks leaked into the soil.
Lake Edward Township had a decision to make after Crow Wing County asked whether the township wanted to buy the tax-forfeited property. Early on there was a question of whether the land should be available for commercial use or used to create green space in a park.
Rydh said about 140 people attended a September information meeting about the tax-forfeited property and what could be done with it.
Ideas included a park with a pavilion or shaded rest stop and information about the township's history. Rydh said people were also concerned about ground contamination.
"And rightly so," he said. "And we wanted to get more information on that."
A straw vote had those attending the meeting in favor of researching costs associated with the land.
Rydh and Burnard said 85 people voted in favor with 50 against to have the township board research potential costs.
Burnard said not all of those attending the meeting lived in Lake Edward Township. Rydh said there were a few non-residents, but not counting them still had a majority in favor of pursuing the issue.
Things came to a boil at a Jan. 8 township meeting. The town board voted 2-1 against buying the land. Jon Wennberg, township supervisor, who voted in favor, resigned at the meeting. Leonard Wagner, a former board member, was appointed to fill Wennberg's seat.
Rydh said the Kenny's Oil vote and the town board's decision not to have a public meeting on the subject was part of his decision to run for elected office for the first time.
Burnard said some people were mad because they wanted a trail-side rest. He said buying the tax-forfeited land would have meant spending money on contaminated site clean-up. Others wanted a trail-side rest with full bath facilities.
"I couldn't see spending money down there," Burnard said, adding the town hall does not have many amenities. "That's not representing the people in the true manner -- that's how I felt."
Rydh said he talked to the DNR and with community involvement there were grant dollars available for trail facilities.
Burnard said hearing from 85 people in favor of researching the costs still left a lot of those unheard from with about 1,400 registered township voters.
"It's too bad," Burnard said. "I've lived here too long to see a community split up about a way-side rest.
"... I don't see why we should buy up Kenny's Oil."
Rydh said he wants more public participation and thought promised information researching costs should have been presented to the public.
Now, Rydh said he is not sure anything can be done at the Kenny's Oil site as the township told the county to put it on the auction block.
"I still have interest and I think it would be a great thing for the community to do together," Rydh said. "I don't know if it is something that could be brought back."
Neither Rydh nor Burnard cared to speculate on what voters would decide at the election.
The township board is also facing tough decisions on growth with some residents and business owners wanting more commercial opportunities along Highway 25 as it extends north of Merrifield and others wanting a rural look and expressing concerns about sprawl.
The Lake Edward Township Board meets at 7 p.m. today. Elections for the contested seat on the three-member town board are Tuesday.
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