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DNR makes offer on Prairie View land

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council met in a special work session Wednesday afternoon to discuss a proposal from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding the city-owned Prairie View Golf Links northwest of town.

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council met in a special work session Wednesday afternoon to discuss a proposal from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding the city-owned Prairie View Golf Links northwest of town.

The council voted last November to close and defund the 18-hole golf course after a committee spent eight months researching alternatives. It ultimately recommended the course be closed and converted into a nature area with the intent to improve water quality.

“Everyone’s been wondering what direction we’re going to go with the golf course,” City Administrator Steve Robinson said Wednesday, adding that the land has been minimally maintained this year. Some sod was sold and the fairways are being maintained for reuse on the Buss Field soccer complex.

In the months since the city voted to close the golf course, Robinson said he met with Nobles County Pheasants Forever regarding interest in selling the land to the DNR for development as a Wildlife Management Area. During Wednesday’s meeting, he shared with the council the DNR’s offer.

In a letter from Southern Region Wildlife Manager David Trauba dated June 13, the DNR noted interest in purchasing the northernmost 98 acres of the Prairie View site at half of its appraised value (to be determined by a DNR-hired appraiser), after the city has removed structures including sand traps and the sprinkler system. The DNR also requests the city prepare the land for planting to native vegetation. Robinson estimated those costs at $50,000 to $80,000.

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It is the DNR’s desire for the remaining 31 acres, eventually to be owned by the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, to be donated to the DNR after proposed sediment ponds are developed on the property. The acquisition of the 98-acre parcel is not contingent on the OOWD gifting the state those remaining 31 acres, Trauba noted.

Meanwhile, the DNR will require the city -- possibly in combination with the watershed district -- to maintain the sediment ponds on the site in exchange for a legal easement on the property.

“All of the things the DNR typically would not agree to, they’ve agreed to in this situation,” Robinson said, referring to the construction of sediment ponds and the city’s need for access to perform routine maintenance on them.

Robinson said the benefit of selling the property to Pheasants Forever, which would then transfer the land to the DNR, is that the city would get a “one-time infusion of cash” for the property -- money that could be used elsewhere in the city.

Reaction to the DNR’s offer was mixed among council members.

“We’re going to get 50 percent value and we still have all the expense of taking care of all the sand traps?” questioned Rod Sankey. “The DNR is going to own it, but we still have the burden of maintaining it? I just can’t buy that. What is the whole taxpayer advantage of giving the property to the DNR?”

Meanwhile, Larry Janssen did not want to see the city lose ownership of the land, saying it could be used for high-end housing in the future.

Janssen’s comment angered Diane Graber, who served on the committee that ultimately recommended the land be converted to a nature preserve.

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“We have made, as a group, a commitment to make it into a wildlife and nature place. I don’t think we should complicate the matter by saying we could use (the land) for something else,” she said. “I just don’t think we can revisit that whole idea.

“There will be change in the city council here … and if we don’t have a plan, this will get thrown up in the air and everything will be brought back up again and it will be sad,” she added.

Mike Harmon said he concurred with Graber.

“The DNR, I think we had to practically beg them to take a piece of land this small,” Harmon said.

Mayor Mike Kuhle repeated the long-range plan for the property, as developed by the committee. That plan included two goals -- for the city to maintain ownership of the property, and to also protect the watershed coming into Worthington.

“I don’t want to own it long-term,” Kuhle said, adding that selling the land to the DNR “satisfies all of our goals to keep that area in wildlife management and protect water quality.

“We’d have to maintain it as some type of wildlife area and foot the whole bill if we don’t sell it to the DNR,” Kuhle added.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” countered Janssen. “You’re giving a prime piece of property away to a government entity.”

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That comment led into more discussion about the property’s potential, and more reaction from Graber.

She said she wasn’t opposed to the city maintaining ownership, but rather opposed to starting over with discussion about what to do with the property.

“What do we want it to be? ‘What do we want it to be?’ was the process discussed for over a year,” she said. “When is the last time we were in the business of running a nature area? Who knows the ins and outs of doing that?”

Robinson said if the city chose to retain ownership, the city would look to Pheasants Forever for expertise. Meanwhile, retaining ownership of the land, he noted, would cost an estimated $2,000 per year in maintenance.

Graber said she was disappointed in the DNR’s offer.

“This (is an) insult is what it is,” she said. “We give them the land, they give us half of what it’s worth and we have to do maintenance on it. It’s worth more to us than that.”

Janssen, meanwhile, said if the city continues to own the land, it gets to write the rules -- not the DNR. He said the DNR could change leadership in the future and choose to make changes on the site, and the city would have no say in what is done.

Kuhle questioned Janssen on the comment, asking if the DNR is going to maintain it as a nature area, how would that change over time.

“All I’m saying is I don’t want to shut the door on this offer,” Kuhle said. “It’s taken a long time to even get it.”

Kuhle asked city staff to seek an appraisal of the golf course property and plan a follow-up meeting with representatives from Nobles County Pheasants Forever and the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District to further discuss the offer.

“It’s a long-term solution that we need to wrestle with,” Kuhle said. “We closed one amenity. I would like to have some funds to enhance other amenities here in town. If there’s opportunity to get some money back and the property remains a wildlife nature area, I think it’s something we have to take a hard look at. Just reserve your judgements for a little bit.

“Our No. 1 goal is to protect that watershed,” he added.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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