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Becker County signs off on settlement with 13 property owners on West Lake Drive; 2 more hold-outs remain

Becker County has agreed to the settlement; the 13 property owners still have to sign off on what are in effect their own individual agreements, and there are still two property holders continuing to hold out against the project.

West Lake Drive is badly in need of improvements, as this photo from 2019 shows.
West Lake Drive is badly in need of improvements, as this photo from 2019 shows.
(Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
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The West Lake Drive reconstruction and trail project got a boost Tuesday when Becker County commissioners agreed to a $361,598 right-of-way settlement agreement, to be divided among 13 property owners who hired an attorney and held out for better terms.

There are still two property holders continuing to hold out against the project, which would have cost about $3.5 million if done last year as planned.

The city and county plan to rebuild the street, add a multi-use trail on the lake side, add curb and gutter, bury the utility lines, and add buried stormwater treatment infrastructure.

About 50 homes are affected, but most property owners settled earlier for a smaller amount.

If accepted by the 13 hold-outs, the settlement agreement will end two separate legal actions launched by Becker County to secure the right-of-way: A quiet title action to determine how much right-of-way the county has and where it is located, and an eminent domain proceeding in which private land is purchased from an unwilling seller for public use.

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Right-of-way is usually not a problem for the government in street improvement projects, but it has been in this case.

Deeds and property titles along that portion of West Lake Drive, from Legion Road to County Road 6, don’t show a public right of way, and those 13 property owners banded together and hired Twin Cities attorney Steve Quam, a Detroit Lakes native, to contest the project. He did not return a message left at his office Wednesday.

The project isn’t out of limbo yet.

“The best way to put it is, we’re making progress,” said Detroit Lakes City Engineer Jon Pratt. “It’s a little slow and frustrating at times, but such are these situations.”

For months, he added, “our office, the county engineer, the county attorney, and the county’s outside legal counsel have been working through this process, and we have an agreement in principle.”

However, each of the 13 property owners have to sign off on what are in effect individual agreements, Pratt said.

“They are kind of deciding on how to divvy it up on their end,” he said. “Each property has specific (things) they want to address.”

“There is no hard timeline for when this will all be completed,” County Attorney Brian McDonald said in an email. “However, the county is working diligently with the property owners to get all of the necessary documents prepared and executed.”

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As for the two hold-outs who are not part of the group settlement, McDonald said, “we look forward to sitting down in the upcoming weeks and discussing settlement in hopes of reaching an agreement and moving this project forward.”

Pratt hopes the right-of-way issues will be untangled and the project will be able to proceed this year.

“Whether we get in early out of the gate, or mid- or late-summer, we’ll hopefully start construction this year,” Pratt said. “But there are still a few hurdles we have to jump.”

In a worst-case scenario, the project will be bid out this fall for construction next year. That way, at least the funds will be encumbered, he said, and there is less chance of the city and county losing the $1.3 million or so in state funding that has been lined up for the project.

It will be a relief to get the project done, whenever that happens, he said. “Everybody can pretty much agree that the road’s shot,” Pratt said.

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