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Campground permit revoked again

Cory Axelson, owner of Hidden Valley Campground, gives testimony Tuesday at a Goodhue County Board meeting. Axelson said he is trying to get the proper permits for the Welch business but has faced multiple setbacks. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Hidden Valley Campground in Welch has lost its permit to operate in Goodhue County, putting the fate of the 50-year-old business into question.

County Board voted 3-1 Tuesday to revoke the campground’s conditional-use permit. The move came eight weeks after an April 1 decision giving owner Cory Axelson one last chance to make a plan to bring the campground into compliance with county and state regulations.

“We’re rehashing everything here,” Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said Tuesday after hearing testimony from Axelson and the county Land-use Management Department. “We have been here for now an hour and a half, and I have heard nothing but the same thing I heard on April 1.”

Rechtzigel forwarded the motion to revoke the CUP, which was seconded by Board Chair Ron Allen. Commissioner Ted Seifert voted against it.

The county already revoked the campground’s CUP in 2011 over safety and environmental concerns, but it was reinstated by a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling.

Seifert offered postponing the decision until August to give Axelson time to make improvements ahead of a possible sale of the campground, but his motion was not seconded.

Axelson told the board that he is considering selling the land, but noted a buyer would not be interested in it without the CUP.

Axelson will not be able to reapply for a permit due to the campground’s proximity to the Cannon River, which requires a 150-foot setback under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Alleged violations

The board held a public hearing April 1 to discuss a series of alleged permit violations at Hidden Valley going back to 2006. Commissioners accepted a report that found the campground expanded without permission; operated without a state license; and lacks a permit for its unfinished septic system.

Axelson submitted a request April 25 for a variance to allow the use of holding tanks in place of a septic system, but a Goodhue County Land-use Management Department review found the application to be incomplete, according to a staff report.

Axelson expressed frustration with Land-use Management in his testimony Tuesday, including a belief that nothing he submitted would have been accepted.

“I just feel there is a strenuous effort to close the campground down no matter what,” Axelson told the board.

Commissioner Jim Bryant, who forwarded the motion last month to table the revocation vote, countered Axelson’s statements saying that staff members are just doing their job.

“My hope today was that you would sit here and, instead of blaming (Land-use Management staff), try to figure out ways you want to work with them and make this a viable and permitted campground,” Bryant said.

Uncertain future

The campground has operated under a 1982 CUP that allows for 20 mobile home sites and 200 campsites, with a stipulation that it “does not encompass any further area.”

Axelson contends that the permit only covers a portion of the campground, and the other tax parcels can continue to be used for camping under “legal nonconforming” use.

But the Minnesota Department of Health has not renewed the campground’s license since 2011, and a district court judge further ordered a permanent injunction in February barring the campground from opening without one.

The MDH has said it would not grant a license until the campground has a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency-approved septic system.

Axelson said previously that recent flooding and problems with contractors added to the delay in finishing the septic system. He estimates around $400,000 has been spent on the project.

Axelson resubmitted his variance request Monday to use holding tanks at the campground. The county will have 15 days to finish its review.

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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