City officials in Tower need to reconsider their threat to prosecute two developers who wish to gain access to the East Two River by removing a portion of century-old retaining wall, or pilings, along the river’s eastern bank.
Both developers have legal rights to access the water, which the city has to find some way to accommodate. What’s more, it’s not clear the city has much jurisdiction over the pilings. The Department of Natural Resources typically has purview over structures located within public waters and state rules generally encourage the removal of manmade structures from lakes and streams. Doing so requires no permit in most cases.
Further, the city has no ordinance in place that defines how landowners with river frontage behind the pilings are to access the river. In the past, the city has allowed property owners to remove some pilings to allow for access, which is both reasonable and a recognition of the rights that owners of shoreline have in Minnesota under common law.
We recognize there are those who remain opposed to one of the proposed developments, the Rose RV park, but the project, much to our surprise, and despite years of resistance from city hall, has its permits in place and is under construction. At this point, the city’s only legitimate interest is to ensure that the project is successful, because its success, ultimately, is the best way to guarantee that the site is well managed and has the least impact on neighbors.
Rather than an imposition, the request by the RV park developer to remove a portion of the river pilings presents a golden opportunity for the city to fix the errors committed in the past. As we have reported, the city’s previous failure to properly process a conditional use permit application led to the automatic issuance of a CUP without any conditions. That was a major failing, but it’s one that city officials could potentially mitigate now by hammering out an agreement with the RV park developer under which the docking issue is resolved amicably in exchange for his agreeing to some relevant conditions that could address concerns of neighbors, such as noise, traffic, and visual screening. Perhaps that agreement could include a requirement that Rose bolster the river pilings in places, which could serve as a base for a docking structure that runs parallel to the river channel and which keeps the docked boats inside the current retaining wall, while providing an opening that allows boats access to the river. A meeting between Rose, the DNR, and city officials could potentially hammer out a plan. The current impasse isn’t a solution. It smacks of obstructionism.
The city needs to find a way to work constructively with everyone who legitimately wants to invest money in the community. In the recent past, city officials ranged from indifferent to hostile to new economic activity in Tower. That has changed for the better, and we are currently seeing the most dramatic increase in economic activity in Tower probably since its founding. It’s exciting and, if done right, Rose RV park could help fuel that economic activity by bringing dozens of new seasonal residents to town.
Mr. Rose can be a bit rough around the edges, and occasionally does the right thing only after exhausting alternatives, but the city can’t be making decisions based on personalities. The city has ordinances and the state has laws and rules that apply to such developments and if the owner of a parcel agrees to comply with them, even reluctantly, they can utilize their property as they wish.
Rather than confrontation, the city would benefit from resolving this impasse sensibly. While it’s understandable that city officials want to protect the city’s investment in the river channel, there are almost certainly ways to do that while still accommodating development along the way. Development, after all, was the reason the city invested in the river in the first place. Let’s set aside personalities, roll up our sleeves, and find a solution that all parties can live with.