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State pulls campground’s septic system permit

Obstacles continue to mount for a Goodhue County campground mired in a years-long regulatory battle with state and local government.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Feb. 14 that it had revoked a disposal system permit for Hidden Valley Campground in Welch. The notice came a day after a district court judge ordered the site closed pending licensure from the state health department.

Owner Cory Axelson has until mid-April to inform the MPCA if he intends to continue operating the campground’s wastewater disposal system or be forced to dismantle it, according to a letter from Aaron Luckstein, supervisor with the agency’s Southeast Regional Unit.

Axelson could not be reached for comment, and the phone number listed on the campground’s website has been disconnected.

Axelson has the option to apply for a new permit; however, because of a “history of noncompliance” related to his management of the system, “the MPCA may conclude that the conditions for issuance of a new permit are not met,” Luckstein wrote.

The MPCA issued a disposal system permit to the campground in 2009, but the facility has yet to meet compliance standards, according to agency documents. An MPCA inspection of the campground last July found “several violations” such as a sewage tank filled beyond capacity and covered with an unsecured piece of plywood.

The MPCA said it sent Axelson a proposal in September to resolve the violations and commit to a new construction schedule, but he did not respond.

Permanent injunction

The lack of a disposal system permit further confounds Axelson’s efforts to get a Minnesota Department of Health license, which the campground has not had since the end of 2011. Court documents state the MDH did not renew the license in 2012 over violations including inadequate sewage facilities.

The MDH said Axelson continued to run the campground in 2013 without a license, prompting the state health commissioner to seek a temporary injunction last August. First District Court Judge Lawrence Clark signed an order in September enjoining the campground from opening to more than four tents or recreational vehicles.

Although Axelson contended that he did not allow more than four campsites in 2013 — the maximum allowed without a health license — evidence submitted to the court by the MDH showed dozens of tents and RVs during multiple times last summer.

Clark made the injunction permanent at summary judgment hearing Feb. 7, citing no evidence from Axelson refuting the MDH’s claims. Neither Axelson nor his attorney attended the hearing, court documents state.

Axelson said previously that he intends to complete the disposal system and has spent $400,000 on the project, and that recent flooding on the adjacent Cannon River, problems with contractors and interference by Goodhue County commissioners have caused the delays.

The county revoked the campground’s conditional-use permit in 2011 over zoning and safety concerns, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the decision because Axelson had not violated a condition outlined in the CUP.

The 300-acre campground has been open since the 1967, founded by Axelson’s late parents, Gilbert and Jeanette Axelson.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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