Dakota County eminent domain proceedings enter next phase

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 12, 2014 - 7:01 PM

Dakota County moves into the next phase of condemnation to gain public ownership of land in Spring Lake Park Reserve.

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William Sorg stood on the shores of Spring Lake in Hastings. The county wants 72 acres of his family’s woods.William Sorg stood on the shores of Spring Lake in Hastings. The county wants 72 acres of his family’s woods.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Dakota County’s attempt to take land along the Mississippi River for a trail and park is moving along, and the biggest question left is how much money the county will pay.

The county is engaged in eminent domain proceedings against two Hastings property owners whose land falls within the boundaries of Spring Lake Park Reserve.

At issue is how William Sorg and his family and Louis Gramsey will be compensated for the land the county will take for the park and trail.

In recent mediation, the county made a concession to the Sorgs to allow them to keep their family cabin overlooking the Mississippi River, plus a buffer zone of about 5 acres. The focus of the condemnation is the 72-acre woods that adjoin the Sorg farm and on 40 of the 60 acres of riverfront owned by Gramsey.

Gramsey did not contest the county’s right to take his land but rejected the county’s $405,000 offer in favor of a value determined through the condemnation process, said his attorney, Daniel Biersdorf. Gramsey will have 20 acres left after the county takes the 40 acres it wants, he said.

Sorg and his family have adamantly opposed the park and trail project and have contested the county’s right to take their land. Sorg will not lose farm fields or buildings. The land under condemnation includes 2,250 feet of lakeshore frontage and a high bluff affording sweeping vistas of the river. It has been part of the Sorg farm since 1896, said attorney Daniel Beeson. “The property is irreplaceable,” he said.

The county offered the Sorgs about $1.1 million for the woods.

For the next step, the First District Court in Hastings has appointed a panel including a lawyer, a real estate agent and an appraiser to view the property and take testimony from the owners and their appraisers.

Once that panel sets a price, either the county or the owners could appeal the award and the case could be tried in district court either before a judge or a jury, Beeson said.

The county said it did not want to comment on the condemnation process.

Biersdorf estimated that it would be sometime this summer when the process resumes, after appraisers for both of the property owners have a chance to arrive at a price.

Spring Lake Park was established as a regional park in 1974 and its boundaries were drawn in 1975 to encompass 1,100 acres, including five miles of Mississippi River shoreline, three miles upriver from Hastings. The county said that since 2003, it has acquired five properties totaling 150 acres for the park in direct purchases totaling $2.5 million.

The county has said it is seeking to use eminent domain to complete the purchases because the properties in question are in the middle of the park and bisect it, thwarting the development and use of the park as outlined in a master plan adopted by county commissioners in 2003.

The land is also needed to complete a segment of the 27-mile Mississippi River Regional Trail between South St. Paul and Hastings, the county has said.

Sixteen miles of the trail are already built. Five to six miles are planned to cross Spring Lake Park over the properties being sought.

The county reached a settlement last month with the descendants of Kevin Mauch to purchase 1.8 acres of their riverfront land for the regional trail that will extend 3.4 miles across the park.

 

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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