A tiff over road signs is brewing in Princeton Township, where some residents are taking matters into their own hands after local leaders removed scores of speed limit and other traffic control devices deemed unnecessary and too costly to maintain.
Greg Anderson, a township resident and former township board member, said the move has made driving through the rural Mille Lacs County community a lot more dangerous. After township board members in 2020 took down speed limit signs, Anderson used his own money to buy replacement signs — only to have them removed, too.
"Why endanger safety by taking them down?" Anderson said. "They were true traffic control signs. They were not frivolous. They were in perfect condition, the best signs money could buy. Ridiculous."
The drama started late last summer when Anderson noticed signs along 17th Avenue had gone missing.
At first he thought they were stolen "by kids horsing around." Then he got calls from other residents who noticed signs on their roads were gone, too.
"It wasn't just our road," he said, pointing to a map he created showing at least 40 locations where signs had been removed.
The township board in June 2020 passed an ordinance governing sign replacement and inventory. Mille Lacs County had installed several traffic-control signs around 2010 in accordance with Minnesota Department of Transportation guidance on sign replacement.
Princeton Township had no formal policy governing sign replacement before the ordinance was enacted, said Jason Hill, the township's attorney. MnDOT doesn't have jurisdiction over signs that aren't on state roads.
The goal behind the ordinance, Hill said, was to switch from a system that replaced signs when they wore out to a fixed schedule, to ensure that signs comply with state requirements, meet manufacturers' specifications and reduce costs to taxpayers.
The ordinance resolved to reduce the township's sign inventory to 110. At the same time, the township adopted a policy "to remove signs along township roads determined to be unnecessary for safety purposes."
The signs included speed limit, stop and yield signs, and those warning drivers when approaching T-intersections and areas with lots of pedestrians on portions of township roads that don't intersect with state or county roads.
"Signs that were subsequently removed were removed in accordance with the policy," Hill said.
Calls to two board members seeking comment were not returned. A third member referred calls to Hill.
Anderson said he offered to buy the original batch of signs that had been removed, but township leaders declined.
The plot thickened this spring when Anderson spent $370 to buy eight signs and put them up on roads passing property he owns. And once again, the township took them away. Sheriff's deputies were present when the township removed the new signs "to observe and keep the peace," said Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh.
That only added a new layer of tension to the feud. Anderson said the signs he bought were put up on his property — something the township disputes — and that he might file a lawsuit against the township for taking personal property.
But in putting the signs up, Anderson may have run afoul of the law. State statue prohibits anybody from putting up a traffic-control device that directs traffic movement, whether on public or private property. The statute also states that such signs are "declared to be a public nuisance" and the authority with jurisdiction over the road can remove them without notice.
"As you can imagine, in order to ensure the safety of the traveling public, the town and any other road authority in the state must have the authority to remove wrongfully placed traffic-control devices that could create confusion and safety hazards," Hill said.
Township officials returned Anderson's signs, and he now has them stored in a barn.
Walsh, the county attorney, said his office has reviewed two cases in connection with the sign removal incidents, but does not plan to file charges.
Anderson said he remains steadfast in his quest to get the signs restored, especially after he recently saw a woman driving fast along 17th Avenue, where speed limit signs had been taken down.
At another intersection, he said a UPS truck nearly got into a crash. "The signs are needed," he said. "Somebody is going to get killed."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768