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Judge’s decision favors the City of Preston

Mon, Apr 16th, 2012
Posted in Preston All

Judge Jeffrey Thompson, Winona County, had presided at a hearing on November 28, 2011, at the Fillmore County Courthouse concerning the city of Preston’s power of eminent domain to acquire two properties for the Preston-Forestville Recreational Trail System. A decision was recently handed down which favors the city.


The city of Preston exercised their power of eminent domain to acquire 5.99 acres that they deemed necessary to construct the trail connecting Preston and Forestville State Park on March 2, 2009. The trail was planned to be a segment of the Blufflands Trail System. Over a span of fifteen or more years there was an effort to acquire the needed property. By 2005 seventeen of the properties from different landowners had been acquired for the trail right of way. Properties owned by the John Snyder family and the Vernon Ristau family were the only properties not acquired. There had been continuing negotiations to acquire these properties through the years.

The trail is to be about ten miles long, ten feet wide with a sixty foot right of way. The parcels the city of Preston exercised its power of eminent domain to acquire included a 2.18 acre parcel owned by John and Bernadette Snyder and a total of 3.81 acres owned by Vernon and Kay Ristau.

The Snyders and the Ristaus commenced a lawsuit against the DNR and the city of Preston in October of 2009. A court hearing was held in Winona in August of 2010 on environmental issues. The plaintiffs requested the DNR to be required to do, at a minimum, an environmental assessment worksheet. In October of 2010 Judge Thompson dismissed the claim against the DNR saying the plaintiffs lacked proof of their claim. Plaintiffs had argued the construction of bridges and culverts will damage water quality and trout stream habitat. Thompson determined the evidence provided on these issues was neither relevant or consequential.

During the fall of 2010 a portion of the trail was constructed west of Preston including a bridge and about a mile of the trail.

November 28, 2011 Hearing

Three issues were argued during the eminent domain hearing. Is the private property the city wants to acquire for the trail for a public purpose and a public use? Is the property “reasonably necessary” to achieve the public purpose? Does the city have the authority to acquire the property?

The city’s attorneys David Joerg and Dwight Luhmann argued that state statute gives the city the authority to exercise eminent domain to acquire private property within or outside the city limits for a purpose authorized by law. They also argued that the planned section of trail is part of a state authorized trail system and is for public use. Alternate routes were not reasonable due to steep grades.

Attorneys Larry Peterson and Brent Kleffman representing the Snyders and the Ristaus presented testimony that Carimona Township membership present at a 2000 annual meeting voted unanimously against the development of bicycle trails in their township. Family members testified as to their belief that the construction of the trail would cause more flooding in the flood plain. Peterson argued that legislation authorizing the Blufflands Trail System does not refer to a segment between Preston and Forestville State Park. He insisted that this planned section of trail has not been authorized by the state.

Comments on the Decision

Attorney David Joerg in a telephone interview said “he was very happy with the court’s decision.” The major issue in this case has been decided in favor of the city of Preston.

If the families don’t decide to appeal the judge’s decision, then the next issue to be determined is the amount of money the landowners are entitled to for the parcels. If they are not satisfied with that determination, they could go to court and could possibly have a jury trial on that issue.

The office of Peterson, Logren, Kilbury was contacted. No response from them was received by the time of the submission of this article.

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