Resolution 2021-25 received Clay County Commission approval on a 4-1 roll call vote with Commissioner Jenny Mongeau voting against passage. Commissioners Campbell, Gross, Kahly and Ebinger voted for the resolution. It grants permission to utilize court action to acquire right of way for the Red River Control Structure. The Moorhead-Clay County Joint Powers Authority (MCCJPA) was formed for the purpose of seeking and obtaining the right of way to property parcels in Minnesota necessary for constructing, operating and maintaining the Red River Control Structure.
Program Manager Eric Dodds, on behalf of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, Attorney Chris McShane of the Ohnstaad Twichell Law Firm and Terryl Williams, appearing virtually, explained their request for approval of Resolution 2021-25. Dodds said, “We have been requested by the Corps of Engineers to purchase the real estate needs for the Red River Control Structure. Their request was to have that land acquired by early August.” He continued, “We are trying to stay on schedule and so the Corps is driving that schedule with their request to have land acquired by August 1. We’ve been negotiating with the property owners.”
Dodds elaborated saying that the MCCJPA has been negotiating with property owners based on appraisal reports. One voluntary agreement was made but three remain unsettled. Dodds explained, “Because of the time element, we have been encouraged to come here and ask to proceed to the next step which is where Clay County steps in. The properties are outside the city of Moorhead and so Clay County, in the Joint Powers Authority, is the entity that steps into that role.” He added, “We will have the county send what is known as a Last Written Offer. Last written offers are an offer to secure the right of way that’s strictly necessary for the Red River Control Structure. In doing so, we would give the property owners until June 8 to respond. If they don’t respond or accept the offer, then Chris (McShane) would be authorized, through the resolution, to file an action to secure those property rights to stay close to being on-schedule.” Approval of the resolution accomplishes acquisition of the needed property by early September.
McShane affirmed Dodd’s presentation as he explained the eminent domain process, “The Clay County Commission is authorized to acquire property that is necessary to implement its local water management plan, one of the elements of which is flood damage reduction.”
Commission Chair Kevin Campbell noted that there is a 90-day window for negotiations to continue after June 8. He said, “On behalf of the MCCJPA Board, we have always tried to be as fair as we can. We are also stewards of the public’s money. We just don’t have an open checkbook. There are ways to value things and we follow the rules that govern us on how we value and how we make those offers.”
Dodds said that, historically speaking, even after the 90-day period is over, most cases are settled without going through the entire court process involved for eminent domain cases.
Commissioner Jenny Mongeau responded, “There are existing frustrations with the shorter, abbreviated timeline of the Corps. I am not sure the timeline provides Minnesota landowners the same flexibility that has been provided to others.” She ended her statement, “I will not be supporting this motion.”
Campbell concluded, “Eminent domain is the last resort that we would ever want to use.”