EAST GULL LAKE -- They don't want your Gull Dam Road.
More than 100 people showed up Friday night at St. Thomas of the Pines Church at Madden's Resort in East Gull Lake to hear more about the $1.92 million Gull Dam Road improvement project, a roadway officially known as County State Aid Highway 70, slated for reconstruction in 2002.
The vast majority of attendees at Friday's public hearing voiced strong opposition to the road project that would drive a new Gull Dam Road through an area they say is filled with environmentally-sensitive wetlands and one that is also rich in archaeological history.
They also opposed the creation of a "highway" in their rural bedroom community, saying the new roadway would bring businesses and more traffic and would encourage motorists to speed through town.
A vocal minority spoke out in favor of the project, citing safety concerns, high traffic volume and deteriorating road conditions that necessitate the new road.
The proposed improvements begin on the west along the Gull Dam Road south of the Gull River Dam and continues across the Gull River on a new alignment to Cass County Road 105. The revised concept plan includes a 12-foot sidewalk, curb and gutter and four-foot shoulders in an attempt to present a residential street with reduced impacts to the vegetation, environment and residences along the new alignment. The old roadway would possibly be turned into a cul-de-sac at the Gull River Dam bridge a year after the road construction project was completed.
Ron Bray, an engineering consultant with W.S.B. & Associates in Minneapolis, explained the history and scope of the project. The one-lane bridge at the Gull River Dam was constructed in 1914. The average daily traffic count across that bridge was 1,240 cars per day in 1999 with a projected daily traffic count of 2,900 cars in 2020.
The many visitors to the dam and nearby campground and walkers along the deteriorating Gull Dam Road present a dangerous environment, he said. Also, the roadway will lose state aid highway funding if the road is not upgraded.
Bray said the new alignment to straighten the roadway was necessary because the current Gull Dam Road can't be widened because it runs only feet away from Indian burial mounds. Sidewalks built on the new Gull Dam Road would provide pedestrians with a safe and scenic path that would loop around the campground, he said.
East Gull Lake resident Terry Fischer's dirt driveway would essentially become the new Gull Dam Road alignment with the new roadway only 25 feet from her home and her three horses. Outraged, Fischer started a petition in opposition of the project. So far, more than 140 East Gull Lake residents have signed the petition, she said.
"Who started this whole thing?" asked Scott Riesner, a Gull Dam Road resident. "Most people I've talked to so far are not in favor of it. You guys stop what you're doing now before we all end up Baxterized like down near Brainerd."
"This might not be the cure, but this road needs work because there are going to be pedestrian deaths," said Curt Christiansen, an East Gull Lake resident who was concerned about his four teen-age sons walking and driving along the road. "I wish you'd start tomorrow."
"If that were my place there and you were going to put that road there," said Gary Stickler, a Squaw Point Road resident, pointing to a graphic that showed the proposed new alignment running 25 feet next to Terry Fischer's home, "I'd be sitting on my porch with my shotgun."
Ron Miles, an East Gull Lake resident and archeologist, explained that the Gull River Dam area was one of five areas in Minnesota with the most significant densities of prehistoric archaeological sites. He said he was concerned the new road realignment may pose a serious archaeological impact on the area.
The East Gull Lake City Council has yet to vote on approving the concept plan for the Gull Dam Road.
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