State to sell valuable Mille Lacs lakeshore property

by Mary Jevne

This legislative session our legislators have agreed to the sale of surplus lands under the jurisdiction of Minnesota DNR. Two parcels being offered for sale are shore land properties on Mille Lacs Lake with nearly 2000 feet of shoreline. One property is school trust fund land and is 1320 feet of shoreline with an average depth of 675 feet. The other is on the west shore near the public access just north of Grand Casino Mille Lacs. Against the recommendation of DNR Commissioner Merriam these properties are to be offered for sale and were approved by Governor Pawlenty and the state legislature.

For several years the school trust fund property, Parcel # 17-016-0200, Section 16 Township-042 Range-26 in Mille Lacs County, has been a sore spot for the DNR. In 1923 an action in Seventh District Court confirmed the ownership of the property to Guy C. Johnson and ruled against Chief Wadena and other Mille Lacs Band members who were claiming ownership.

In the 1930’s the property became tax forfeit and title was returned to the state along with its school trust fund status. Later, area residents say tribal members related to the Melvin Pewaush family lived in a tarpaper shack on the state owned property after a falling out with the tribal government. Either through the state’s ignorance of the inhabitants or lack of concern, the tribal members continued to remain on the state owned property.

In the late 1980’s or early 1990’s Congressman Oberstar tried to obtain federal dollars to buy the school trust fund land for the Mille Lacs Band. Mr. Pewaush moved a house onto the state owned land thinking the Mille Lacs Band would soon own the property. Since the deal had to be agreed to by the state legislature and signed by the governor it never went through. Rep. Oberstar never obtained federal funds for the purchase of the land and Minnesota retained ownership.

In 1993, the 1837 Treaty Settlement bill provided for the Mille Lacs Band to receive 7000 acres of unnamed state lands as part of the deal. Thinking the bill would be approved and the Mille Lacs Band would own the school trust fund land, Mr. Pewaush installed a well and septic system for the house and cut trees for a driveway. The deal was defeated by the legislature and the DNR now has a problem. Mr. Pewaush continues to live on state owned school trust fund lands. He has moved in a house and built a well and septic system and the Mille Lacs Band has no claim to the property.

For several years after that the Band and the state tried to work out a land trade for the property. No deal could be reached. Now it seems the state has chosen to get rid of the problem. The school trust fund land is on the list of surplus property to be sold.

This solution is not in the best interests of all Minnesotans. Mille Lacs Lake is close to the Twin Cities and is a popular destination for anglers and lake lovers. As the population of our state grows the lake will be even more popular. Why is our state allowing a premium lakeshore property of 1320 feet to be sold? It should be retained until it is needed for public access or some other public purpose.

If this public shore land is sold it will go to the highest bidder, possibly the Mille Lacs Band, who has sought it for many years. It may be put into trust and be forever removed from state jurisdiction and the tax roles of Minnesota.

The other parcel is just north of a popular public access on the west side of Lake Mille Lacs. It has 650 feet of lakeshore that may be needed to expand the public access in the future. It seems shortsighted to be selling valuable irreplaceable lakeshore on a very popular Minnesota lake to help balance the budget. This property will also go to the highest bidder. If the Mille Lacs Band buys it, it too may be placed in trust and be removed from state jurisdiction and Minnesota tax roles forever. Let’s ask our state to reconsider this misguided thinking and hang on to this shore land for future generations of Minnesotans.

The land hasn’t been offered for sale yet. Let’s keep it that way.