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Preston proceeds with eminent domain for trail

Fri, Oct 5th, 2007
Posted in Government

In February 2006, the Preston City Council decided to look into alternative routes for the proposed trail between Carimona and Forestville. Finding no solution, the council voted on Tuesday to proceed with eminent domain against two property owners.

PRESTON - Preston City Council members unanimously approved a resolution at their October 2 meeting appointing Preston Attorney David Joerg as special counsel to use eminent domain proceedings to acquire two holdout properties for the Preston-Forestville Recreational Trail System. The properties in question, which are owned by John Snyder and Vern Ristau, are located between Carimona and Forestville State Park.

Joerg agreed to do the work "pro bono" (without cost) for the city. Council member Robert Sauer asked Joerg specifically if the city would incur any expense for his work and Joerg replied that it would not. Joerg added that there will continue to be negotiations with the Snyders and the Ristaus on where the trail goes through their property as well as appropriate compensation.

The Joint Powers Board involving six area cities has made an effort over the last ten years to acquire properties to construct the trail to Forestville State Park from Preston. Because of the steep topography and the limitations of no more than a 5% grade on slopes required by the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), the design and possible route for the trail leaves little room for adjustment.

Mayor Kurt Reicks asked that one representative from each family speak for the families. As the family members listed their objections, most family members present had their say as well as friends and Farm Bureau representatives who were opposed to taking agricultural land for a bike trail.

John Snyder insisted that the trail is "a want and not a need." He held up a copy of the Fillmore County Journal and asked how many businesses that advertise in the Journal is the trail going to benefit?

Joerg pleaded that Preston needs the trail. He said that a local farmer had commented to him that the city of Preston is dying. Tracy Raaen, Vern Ristau's daughter, insisted that the trail will not make a difference for the city. Snyder added that Preston is being turned into a retirement community.

Sauer said that other possible trail routes suggested by the families would require land from other land owners who have expressed an unwillingness to sell. Vernon Ristau said that he was confused and wanted to know why these land owners were not pursued when they said that they weren't interested. Ristau maintained that he and his family had been saying no for ten years. Ristau said that he'd worked this land all his life and it had been in the family 64 years. He was insulted that members of the city council were going to make a decision about his property that only two of them, Sauer and Reicks, had even set foot on.

Scott Winslow, representing the Farm Bureau, accused supporters of the trail of being more concerned about trees than cropland. This comment was a result of discussion about other possible routes for the trail. One would have required numerous switchbacks through a woods on a steep hillside denuding the area. Winslow continued, declaring that the trail won't help fill the school with kids. He added that the council members need to have the backbone to say no. Winslow argued that the city has no right to take land in the country. It is a fact that the farmers involved can't cast a vote for Preston city council members.

Kay Ristau was concerned about liability. Joerg said that the state has an immunity statute to protect property owners along the trails from liability claims. Mrs. Ristau claimed that the trail will infringe on their privacy plus cause a loss of crop acres and interfere with their use of their own property for hunting, fishing and four-wheeling.

Ruth Meirick, Farm Bureau, complained that the acreage taken out of production would affect the tax base, chemical purchases, seed sales, and more. She said that the trail would dissect the farm making it a hazard for bikers. Meirick called the bike trail a "non-essential" for eminent domain. She added that farmers don't wear business suits, but still are community business people.

Dale Willie, the landscape architect who designed the trail, stated that he did look to see if there were other possibilities. He rejected other routes because of steep grades or the need for numerous switchbacks. The DNR requires that the trail enter the park at an open area across from Darrell Ray's place, limiting other possible routes into the park.

Mark Sather, Jailhouse Inn, suggested that not just the cost of the trail should be looked at, but also the benefits to the community. He admitted that small rural communities are loosing population and businesses partly due to a reduced number of farmers. Sather claimed the trail will help maintain the viability of the rural sector with sales tax generation. He added that tourism and agriculture generate about the same amount of revenue for the state of Minnesota. Sather stated that this area is the second highest in the state for tourism.

The council suspended their rules so that they could discuss the resolution before making a motion to approve the resolution. Dr. Sauer noted the recent eminent domain proceedings in Mower County used to acquire several properties for a bike trail. Joerg called them a milestone in trail litigation. The case in Mower County was appealed to the appellate court and the higher court ruled that the lower court was correct in its use of eminent domain. The trails were sited as a necessary public purpose in that they promoted good health and combated obesity. Sauer added that this was the first case under the new eminent domain law.

Joerg said that the city would own the property for a brief time before it is sold to the state. The judge will appoint three commissioners from the county to determine the replacement value of the property. The two parcels being sought include about 2.5 acres of the Snyder property and almost 3.5 acres of the Ristau property.

The resolution reads that "these properties will be acquired for necessary and public purposes, specifically for the promotion of economic development as well as health and recreation benefits that would accrue to the city of Preston and surrounding area."

Sauer moved to adopt the resolution adding that the latest alignment would be used; Heath Mensink seconded, and the council approved the motion.

Mayor Reicks added that he wanted to publicly thank council member Sauer for his efforts to resolve the impasse on the trail and the diary he kept detailing the work.

Other Business

A resolution was passed to modify the city's ordinance for privately-owned swimming pools. Pools disassembled or removed at the end of the season are considered "temporary pools" and are now exempt from the section of the ordinance requiring work to be done in accordance with the building code with a plan and a building permit. There was a public hearing held by Planning and Zoning on the proposed modification of the ordinance. City Administrator Joe Hoffman said that there were no comments from the public.

• Sally Gibson requested a parade permit for the Pumpkin Ride Parade which will include bicycles and floats. It will take place at 4:00 p.m. on the last Saturday in October. The parade permit was approved contingent on the assurance that the parade will have liability insurance coverage.

• Public Hearings will be held on November 5 at 6 p.m. on assessments for 2007 Street and Utility Improvements and for Sidewalk Improvements.

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