The dispute among property owners and city and county officials has caused needless delays to the West Lake Drive improvement project -- delays that ultimately will cause the cost of the project to increase.

Legal machinations have already started, on both sides, and Becker County commissioners have already discussed the use of special assessments on property owners, as well as eminent domain.

We believe that all parties -- affected landowners and government officials -- should be able to come to the table and work out a satisfactory solution before becoming entangled in long-simmering lawsuits and bad feelings.

The $3.5 million joint Detroit Lakes-Becker County project would rebuild the street, from where the City Beach ends to just before County Road 6, with wooded beachfront property along Little Detroit Lake. It also would 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 stormwater treatment.

Neighbors argue that Becker County has not established its claim to a 66-foot right-of-way on that stretch of roadway, and have hired a lawyer to argue that point.

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The pavement on West Lake Drive is in poor condition, one of the reason city and county engineers would prefer to get the project done sooner rather than later. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
The pavement on West Lake Drive is in poor condition, one of the reason city and county engineers would prefer to get the project done sooner rather than later. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

The Tribune's Nathan Bowe knocked on doors recently and spoke with several residents along West Lake Drive. They listed a range of concerns -- from bike safety to the easement question to the value of lakeshore property -- but ultimately say they don't necessarily object to the street improvements.

But the clock is ticking.

Now, Bowe reported, the Minnesota Department of Transportation wants to conduct a full archaeological study of land affected by the project, which will also slow down the construction timeline. City Engineer Jon Pratt said the project had been planned to start next summer after the Water Carnival. That is looking unlikely.

This process should be a team effort: The improvements, including the buried utility lines and a new stormwater runoff plan, are worth the investment.

But city and county leaders must reach out to property owners to address their concerns and any confusion over the project. They also should recognize that value -- monetary or otherwise -- that the property has for its owners.

Though there might be some additional costs involved in making things amenable to all parties now, it won't be as costly has initiating a legal battle over easements and eminent domain.