If you’re interested in having your own island in the Mississippi River, Dakota County might just have a deal for you.
The county next month may put up for auction a tax-forfeited 2⅓ acre island off the rivershore of Inver Grove Heights, a prospect that has captured the interest of dozens on social media.
The nameless island, which sits within Inver Grove Heights’ city limits, could go up for sale because its previous owners haven’t paid taxes on it for decades. It’s now owned by the state as are all tax-forfeited properties, said Michael Johnson, Dakota County deputy director for property taxation and records.
The island is undeveloped and prone to flooding, but it’s also known to be a prime spot for both duck hunting and teenage parties. County officials have received at least five inquiries on how to purchase it.
“When it comes to tax-forfeit parcels, I have paid attention to scores of them over the years,” said Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins. “None of them have ever come close to generating this kind of interest.”
Atkins posted information about the island online, joking that with a tax value of $2,200 the property might make a great Christmas gift.
“I would be seriously interested in buying this property,” said Victoria Sheehan on Facebook. “My main interest would be to buy it to keep it free for boaters on the river to continue to use it for recreation as they have for years.”
“We should buy it for waterfowl hunting,” wrote Ted Hamlin, tagging a friend.
Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, said there are hundreds of islands on the stretch of the Mississippi bordering the metro area. The total count depends on what is classified as an island, since some are underwater for part of the year, but a 1995 New York Times article said that more than 115 islands dot the Mississippi near the Twin Cities.
Many islands in the river are publicly owned while others are held privately or by the National Park Service, which operates the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area along the 72-mile river corridor through the metro area, Clark said.
The island in question is in a beautiful and ecologically valuable area, he said, but also sits right in the flood plain.
“It’s definitely not developable,” Clark said. “You couldn’t put a structure on it.”
The island is just east of the 256-acre Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area, a state nature preserve, and near other natural areas. Having so much pristine land near a major metropolitan hub is rare, Clark said, adding that the island is important for migratory birds and turtles.
Inver Grove Heights Mayor George Tourville was blunt about the land’s value. “It floods a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t give them a dollar for it.”
He said he’s heard of people duck hunting on the island or stopping there while boating to relieve themselves.
“I know that some kids have canoed and gone out there and [done] whatever,” Tourville said.
In 2018, 50 Dakota County properties were placed on the tax forfeiture list. They will be auctioned off in early 2019 unless one of several scenarios occurs, such as repurchase by a previous owner or an administrative hold is put on them by the local jurisdiction. That might be done if officials want to buy the property for public use or if the land is hazardous, Johnson said.
The island’s last owner was the Pine Bend Development Co., an investment firm that picked up the island along with 3,000 other acres in the St. Paul area in 1970, according to a legal website. It was tax forfeited in 1987 after property taxes went unpaid for six previous years, Johnson said.
Despite the forfeiture, the land couldn’t be sold at the time because state law prevented counties from selling property next to public waters without special legislation, Johnson said. That rule changed in 2016.
“It’s obscure because selling any land adjacent to public waters is new,” he said, adding that part of another island in the county also is currently tax-forfeited.
In addition to barriers posed by the island’s flood plain status, a new owner might also face restrictions from city rules. Atkins, a former Inver Grove Heights mayor, said the land is designated for public open space in the city’s comprehensive plan. It’s zoned agricultural but also sits in a shore land district, which limits its possible uses, Atkins said.
Still, the idea of buying a verdant isle thrills many people.
“Everyone has probably dreamed of owning their own island at some point,” Atkins said.