A 40-year battle over a Hubbard County lakeshore has ended in a scathing rebuke from a judge who called county officials incompetent and negligent in allowing a garbage business to operate for decades on the lake’s scenic shoreline.
In a decision filed late last month, District Judge Paul Rasmussen criticized Vern Massie, the county’s longtime solid waste administrator and now chairman of the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners.
Under the leadership of Massie — whose actions the judge branded “disturbing” and “ludicrous” — the county for decades refused to act on pleas from residents of Hinds Lake who argued that the garbage business was illegal under the county’s shore land management law.
“This Court finds it disappointing that, rather than make things right for the residents on Hinds Lake, the county dug in with a denial of any obligation to remedy a nuisance that it negligently allowed to exist for the better part of four decades,” the judge wrote.
Hubbard County was sued by John Knoblauch, a Chanhassen resident whose family has owned a cabin on Hinds Lake for nearly 70 years. Knoblauch’s late father, along with other cabin owners, had been fighting the garbage operation since the 1970s.
Along with complaints about noise, odor and pollution, residents said the garbage business — which hosted dozens of garbage trucks, dumpsters and roll-off containers — was closer to the shoreline than county law allowed.
In 2016, Knoblauch finally gave up negotiating with the county and filed suit. He said he’s angry the county fought the issue for so long.
“The real outrage is for the county commissioners to continue spending taxpayer money on legal bills to fight the lawsuit,” Knoblauch said this week. “They should have spent the money on cleaning up the mess instead of it going into attorneys’ pockets.”
Knoblauch added that he wants to see Massie resign from the county board.
“The main person that really was the single county employee who allowed this to go on for so long is the county commissioner [Massie],” he said. “I’m after his resignation, and until he resigns I’m not done.”
In an e-mail, Massie said he could not discuss the issue.
“Been advised by the lawyer that since this is still [an] open case with a pending appeal I cannot comment on the matter,” he wrote. “Maybe after it is all done. The case isn’t over yet.”
No appeal has been filed, said Steven Peloquin, a Park Rapids attorney who represented Knoblauch.
Peloquin said he was surprised by the harsh language in the judge’s decision, which included a writ of mandamus issued against Hubbard County. A writ of mandamus is an order to perform an action; in Latin, “mandamus” means “we command.”
Hubbard County was ordered to make sure all traces of the garbage business are gone by Sept. 1, 2018. The judge also issued fines of $20,000 each to Dale Anderson, longtime owner of the garbage business, and Nick Davis, who took over the business several years ago.
Courts usually give counties wide leeway in deciding how to enforce their own ordinances, Peloquin said.
“To be forced to say, ‘Hey, do your job’ — that’s unusual,” he said. “I really don’t know why the county fought this so hard. This is a real puzzler to me.”