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Not really an issue...


Fri, May 4th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, May 7, 2001

The presence of an Austin television news reporter and cameraman outside the Commissioners chamber usually means that something out of the ordinary is going to happen at the Tuesday morning meeting.

However, at last Tuesdays meeting of the County Board, except for the presence of the Austin TV crew looking for a story, nothing out of the ordinary really happened. Perhaps someone had informed them that there might be a conflict over a new bicycle trail easement in Spring Valley, but that just didnt happen.

The City Council of Spring Valley had written a letter to the Commissioners in early April requesting approval of an easement along County Road 8 for a recreational trail. The letter acknowledged landowner opposition to the trail and the citys intent to initiate eminent domain proceedings to acquire .8 acres of land from an unwilling seller.

The letter also firmly stated that the city was requesting that the commissioners review the easement request without questioning the policy decisions of the City with regard to trail construction.

On this note, Spring Valley Mayor Jim Struzyk and the City Attorney Lee Bjorndal approached the commissioners seeking that approval. The easement is needed for a recreational trail project that will run from Spring Valley northeast to the citys 100-acre farm. Engineering plans for the proposed route show the trail running for 1,570 feet within the right-of-way that belongs to the County.

On this issue, the Board first heard from Fillmore County Attorney Matt Opat who informed them that his research indicated the bike trail is "proper and consistent use" of road right-of-ways as stated in Minnesota statutes. "Nothing says we cant grant the easement," explained Opat.

Opats chief concerns seemed to be with the cost of reconstruction of the trail should the county decide to redesign or widen the road. According to the statues, that cost would be borne by the county.

Despite attorney Opats assurances that the proposed trail was a legal use of the right-of-way, Mr. Struzyk and Mr. Bjorndal approached the commissioners as if they had to sell the project to the Board.

Mayor Struzyk explained to the Board that Spring Valleys goal is to encourage tourism and that this trail to the city farm would be an asset to the accomplishment of that goal. Struzyk added that the legislature has a high priority for recreation trails and wants to see the Root River Trail system completed.

When Commissioner Harry Root questioned Struzyk on the length of the trail within the countys right-of-way, Struzyk called on city consultant Dale Wille to bring forward the trail plans. Wille explained that the surveys had been completed for all the properties along the route, "except for one owner that doesnt want to work with us."

Just before the subject of "eminent domain" could raise its ugly head, the Spring Valley City Attorney Lee Bjorndal began a dissertation addressing the reasons why the commissioners should approve the trail easement. After noting that the City could build its trail and route the bikes onto County Road 8 for the 1,570 feet rather than onto a new, separate trail in the right-of-way, he added, "we want to cooperate (with the county).

"This is what is going on in communities," Bjorndal continued. "There will be no cost to the county and the public purpose is appropriate." Bjorndal also cited Lanesboro and other communities as examples of economic success related to the Root River Trail.

At this point, the commissioners became inquisitive.

"Have there been public hearings on this trail?" inquired Board Chair Helen Bicknese.

"Weve had numerous hearings," responded Mayor Struzyk.

"Will this trail come under the jurisdiction of the Fillmore County Zoning ordinance?" questioned Commissioner Duane Bakke.

"No, not in the city," explained attorney Opat.

"How big is the total right-of-way?" asked Commissioner Root.

To this, Dale Wille explained that the trail easement is 50 feet wide. This question also brought a response from Mayor Struzyk who reported that although this trail would have an easement of 50 feet and a 10 foot wide paved trail, the new DNR trails of the future would probably have an easement width of up to 100 feet and a 20 foot wide paved trail.

According to Struzyk, long-range plans also call for the Root River Trail to be linked to Wisconsin trails via an old railroad bridge over the Mississippi River.

After listening to Chair Bicknese declare that the issue before the Board was only the trail within the countys right-of-way and not the issue of trails in general, Commissioner Dahl moved to approve the easement to Spring Valley subject to County Attorney Opats review of the easement language. Commissioner Duane Bakke seconded the motion.

During the discussion on the motion, Commissioner Root emphasized that he did not like the use of eminent domain to acquire easements. "I really have a problem with condemnation. Have you exercised every option?" Root asked.

Referring to the one landowner who has not agreed to sell his property for the trail easement, the Mayor responded, "Yes, weve tried. He cant be worked with."

Despite the occasional reference to one uncooperative landowner, no other opposition to the trail easement was heard. The motion carried unanimously and the TV crew left the meeting.

Facilities planning

The long-awaited commissioner discussions on facilities planning may soon begin. Commissioner Bakke announced that he wants the Board to schedule regular, monthly meetings to discuss the county facilities.

"What about the fifth Tuesday of the month?" inquired Chair Bicknese. However, as was quickly realized by all, not every month contains a fifth Tuesday.

"I want to do it monthly," replied Bakke. "There is a lot to look at."

The commissioners received the report from a special citizens advisory committee on the courthouse on March 15, and have yet to discuss the report at its regular meetings.

The Board decided by consensus to set the fourth Tuesday at 1:00 P.M. as the regular time for the facilities planning meetings. The first of these special meetings will be held on May 22.

Tuesday Afternoons

In an effort to coordinate and consolidate meeting days, the commissioners discussed holding all special meetings that require a full board to be held on Tuesday afternoons.

In taking action towards that end, the Board scheduled several meetings for Tuesday afternoons in May. The bid openings for the new courthouse elevator will be on May 8 at 2:00, and the finance committee will meet an hour earlier at 1:00.

The afternoon of the 8th of May might also see the commissioners interviewing county engineer candidates. By consensus, it was decided that either May 8 or May 15 would be the interviews with the two "qualified" candidates. Coordinator Karen Brown would not disclose how many unqualified candidates applied and would not be interviewed.

By Mike McGrath

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