West Lake Drive right-of-way case goes to Otter Tail County

A $1 million state grant at stake in the right-of-way case. About 50 homes along Little Detroit Lake would be affected by the $3.5 million West Lake Drive project if Becker County prevails.

City officials say the trees along Little Detroit Lake will largely be spared, because the West Lake Drive project's footprint will mostly shift towards the residential side. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

An Otter Tail County district judge is expected to hear arguments later this month on a right-of-way case involving West Lake Drive in Detroit Lakes.

The case was due to be heard in late September, but was delayed after several Becker County district judges bowed out for conflict of interest and other reasons, according to Becker County Highway Engineer Jim Olson.

Becker County recently came into possession of old road documents that commissioners hope will improve the county’s chance of prevailing in the case.

An 1872 “road area” document from two years after the area was first surveyed was found in archives kept by Lakeview Township, which included that part of West Lake Drive before it was annexed by Detroit Lakes.

The document states that West Lake Drive from the Pelican River to Legion Road is a “four rod road,” County Surveyor Roy Smith told the County Board earlier. “Four rods is 66 feet … as far as I can see, there is no doubt that a 66-foot road was created.”


The county has argued that it has a 66-foot right of way on West Lake Drive, but has found limited documentation to back up that claim.

The historic documentation is important to the county because it wants to upgrade that stretch of West Lake Drive, but can’t do so until it obtains clear right to the 66-foot stretch, either by court action or the legal taking of private property through eminent domain.

Time is an issue -- there is a $1 million state grant at stake -- so the county has pursued both options at once, so it can quickly proceed with eminent domain if it loses in court.

About 50 homes are affected by the $3.5 million West Lake Drive project, which will rebuild the street, add a multi-use trail on the lake side (separated from the street by a buffer strip) add curb and gutter, bury the utility lines, and add buried stormwater treatment infrastructure.

Thirty of those residents have signed an agreement stipulating the county’s 66-foot right of way, and received a flat fee of $1,500 each.

The remaining 20 property owners have not signed the agreement, and about a dozen don’t agree that the county has a 66-foot right of way on that stretch of roadway. They have hired Twin Cities attorney Steve Quam to contest the taking of their property.

The upcoming court case will determine whether the county has the right of way or not.


What To Read Next
Get Local