Board member welcomes input on Lebanon Hills master plan

by Tom Egan
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

I seriously pondered whether I should respond to the letter written by Scott Johnson (“Commissioner Egan is correct,” Dec. 19, 2013) in this newspaper. I decided it was important to the reading public to clarify misinformation. So I am writing my response.

First, let me say that many comments have been received in various forms about the plan for Lebanon Hills Regional Park and many of those comments have been negative. That is why Dakota County extended the process time for consideration of park improvement plans from last summer to early 2014. That is why interested parties were invited in September to join the Dakota County staff and board of commissioners on a tour of the park and workshop. That is why the Dakota County Board directed the Dakota County Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on Lebanon Hills this fall.  That is why after receiving a unanimous recommendation by the Planning Commission to open the public comment period the Dakota County Board on Nov. 19 unanimously voted to open that 60-day comment period on Lebanon Hills from Nov. 19 to Jan. 18.

Also, two open houses were planned to make presentations to the public about tentative improvements at Lebanon Hills. One was held on Monday, Dec. 16 at the Dakota County Western Service Center in Apple Valley; the second is scheduled at the same location for Jan. 14. Dakota County staff did an incredible amount of work laying out clear and simple graphic information about the tentative plans. As a policy maker, I can’t possibly imagine relying on the opinion of the public concerning an issue such as this as much before they are presented with an opportunity to review information as before. None of the comments Mr. Johnson mentions were made before even this first open house. Attendance at this open house was significant although a large number of attendees came with their own predisposition and weren’t very interested in the presentations.

And then there is Mr. Johnson’s statement that “taxpayers [should] object to the $31,029,429 bill that [Egan] voted for at the November Dakota County Planning Committee meeting.” Well, for those of you who have recently read that this month the Dakota County Board of Commissioners voted to authorize a levy for 2014 that is 0.6 percent below the levy for 2013 keeping Dakota County with the lowest levy per capita of any county in the metropolitan area, you might be confused. You see, Mr. Johnson is wrong. The Dakota County Board has yet to authorized any amount for Lebanon Hills improvements. And if and when we do, it is anticipated that those improvements will occur and be paid for over 20 years.

So again to summarize, we still have at least one more open house scheduled for Jan. 14 on tentative Lebanon Hills improvements. It would be great if attendance at that open house was at least as good as we had at the first one. We may decide to hold further open houses. The intent is to collect, refine and condense all the information obtained from all sources – including these open houses – and to come back with plans that take into consideration all those comments.  We are considering extending the period further to allow everyone to be engaged in all options. A number of people have contacted me … including several at the first open house … expressing a desire to work on a compromise solution for Lebanon Hills. Bearing in mind that the main responsibility the Dakota County Board has is to make Lebanon Hills – and all the parks in our regional park system -–as accessible to as many people as possible we will continue to work toward coming up with a plan that is as acceptable to as many people as possible.

Tom Egan is a member of the Dakota County Board serving the Third District, which includes the city of Eagan. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.

  • Scott D Johnson

    So let me get this straight: You are extending the comment period, and having more open houses to better educate the pubic and gain more support. In other words, the board has decided they want to spend this money and they are fishing to find supporters because only citizens opposed to their grand plans have spoken up so far. That still does not change the fact that 9 in 10 citizens do not want you to pave the park. How hard is it to understand your citizens do not want this, no matter how simple your staff created graphics and explanations. We understand the issues, do you? Lastly, elected officials answer to the public, not to planning committees protecting their jobs by creating spending projects, lest you have forgotten.

  • Rosemount Resident

    Where did you get that 9 in 10 citizens do not want to access this park Scott? This park is paid for by all of the residents of Dakota County. That means that this park MUST be able to provide access to 100% of residents. A paved trail will provide that access. Do you want to deny access to Americans with Disabilities Scott?

    • Scott D Johnson

      Read the comments on the county web site. Read the survey results, and you will find the tally of supporters is very few. You also need to remove the salaried county employee’s comments as they are just trying to protect their jobs.
      No, I am not trying to deny access to anyone. I have a disabled child myself. There are plenty of local parks and areas in this park that are ADA compliant. Are there any “paved roads” in the BWCA? Let’s be reasonable, and use some common sense in how we spend our dollars.

      • Rosemount Resident

        So to you Scott, only people that comment on the county website or respond to surveys count as citizens of Dakota County? This park is not the property of any one person and please, leave the county employees out of this. Without them there is no park!

        The BWCA is not Lebanon Hills. They are as different parks as an elementary playground is to the Metrodome. Did you know that parts of Lebanon Hills park were once a junk yard full of rotting automobiles? Thank the county for cleaning that up and creating the park.

        Bottom line is this park is for all citizens. If you want to experience the real wilderness go to BWCA or any state land north of Forest Lake. Lebanon Hills is a local county park. Be thankful to have as many parks in Dakota County. Open them to all citizens. And keep them CLEAN!