U must reimburse private airport

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2012 - 9:05 PM

Court orders $140,000 payment to evicted tenants.

The University of Minnesota must pay more than $140,000 in moving expenses to the tenants of a private airport evicted from U land for a wind turbine project, a state Appeals Court ordered Monday.

After nearly 25 years, the operators of Jensen Airfield were asked to leave UMore Park in Rosemount in 2010. The U terminated the lease because it needed the land for an $8 million wind turbine research project. Under the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, which requires financial assistance for people displaced by federal projects, Jensen Airfield asked the U to reimburse them for $141,825 based on a cost estimate to move 13 airplane hangars owned by 10 people and other personal property from UMore Park.

The U rejected Jensen's claim, saying the operators were not "displaced persons" because the turbine wasn't the sole reason for their removal. Jensen's operators countered that the project was the only reason they were asked to leave.

Jensen requested an administrative appeal hearing, and U President Robert Bruininks appointed Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien to oversee the proceedings. O'Brien sided with the university.

The Appeals Court reversed the ruling, reasoning that, as a business forced to relocate, Jensen Field fits the definition of a "displaced person" under the act, which requires agencies to pay "actual reasonable" relocation expenses when it undertakes a program or project that displaces a person.

The U rejected claims by Jensen Airfield that the U violated procedure by appointing O'Brien to hear the case.

Jensen attorney Jon Morphew said Monday that he now plans to file a Minnesota Equal Access to Justice Act claim against the U to recover attorneys' fees for his clients.

ABBY SIMONS

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