Minn. Park’s Owner Claims Rare Enforcement
Troubled park owner Cory Axelson was in Goodhue County District Court in southeast Minnesota on Sept. 9 fighting an attempt by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to force a shutdown of the Hidden Valley Campground in Welch, the Cannon Falls Beacon reported.
Axelson’s late parents, Gilbert and Jeanette Axelson, opened the campground located on a mile of the south side of the Cannon River near Welch in 1963.
“Other communities would celebrate a business that’s been here 50 years, but Goodhue County has an agenda to shut me down,” says Axelson. “And to what end? What’s the final outcome? Is this a land grab by the county?” asked Axelson. “The county served a search warrant here in August and there must have been over a dozen county cars out here,” said Axelson. “How much are they spending in an effort to shut us down?”
Axelson, who lives on the site, has been under pressure from Goodhue County, the MDH and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since about 2008 to upgrade the sewage system for the campgrounds, but Axelson said he is the only campground in the county, and maybe the state, that has been asked to meet the stricter new standards for campground sewage systems that went in about 2009.
Axelson has an engineer designed new sewage plan that he has made progress on, but it has ended up costing way more than first anticipated, he says. The plan requires pumping all the way to the top of the bluffs from holding tanks on the riverside campgrounds to drain fields out of the floodplain. The uphill pump is about a 700-foot vertical climb, said Axelson. Difficulties with the excavator first hired for the job have also complicated the progress, said Axelson. in addition to the progress he has made on the sewage system, Axelson said he also completed major upgrades to the shower and bathroom facilities in 2011, which was an area of concern to the County.
The county actually took action to revoke his conditional use permit in August 2011. Axelson did not open in 2012, but fought the revocation and had it overturned by the Court of Appeals in August 2012.
Axelson reopened in what he describes as a limited basis that did not require a MDH license in 2012 and 2013. The MDH claims that the number of campers he has had does require a license, which he lost at the end of 2011.
Axelson said he also fears if he does not run the campground, his conditional use permit can be revoked on grounds of not being used, which he said influenced his decision to reopen the business without a license. New federal wild and scenic waterway regulations — issued after his parents opened the business, and which he would have to meet if the old conditional use permit was lost — would essentially shut down the business, he says.
The cost of the required sewage system is also so steep that Axelson said he cannot pay for it without bringing in income. Originally estimated at nearly $200,000, he says he took out a loan for $250,000 but that final sewage system costs may end up being another $300-400,000 or more.
The existing MPCA permit expires in 2014. Axelson said he thinks other campgrounds are being allowed to pump and haul from tanks, rather than put in a full drain field and he may seek a plan for a less expensive permit. The plan MPCA wants for him is for five or six times his capacity, he says. “We measured with gauges the water going through our wells. We run about 3,000 gallons a week. The MPCA wants a system to handle 19,000 gallons a week.”
Axelson thinks neighbors who started to build across the river from him in the early ’90s have pressured county commissioners to shut him down. He says Commissioner Ron Allen has been very one-sided and adamant to force closure in the entire process. Axelson says Commissioner Richard Samuelson suggested he just sell the property.
Another complicating factor in the process of getting the campgrounds up to the new standards has been the somewhat increasing frequency of “100-year floods.” Axelson said there’s been about three of the worse floods in the last 50-years since 2008 in Welch.