Nicolville sewer issues continue

Published 6:35 am Monday, September 21, 2009

Red Rock Township officials were hoping to resolve a sewer issue in Nicolville this summer, but now pending eminent domain proceedings are likely to push work back to next year.

The small community has had septic problems dating back for decades, with the situation all the more serious because of the proximity to Dobbins Creek — a stream that flows through the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin.

John Mueller, chairman of the township board, said he’s been notified by the state that the situation is a “top-5” clean-up priority because raw sewage is essentially flowing into the water.

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The board has focused in on one solution in recent years — purchasing some local farmland and using it to build a community collection system.

However, holding that up has been the reluctance of the landowners to sell.

According to Red Rock Township attorney Jeffrey Kritzer, the land is owned by John Ginther and eight others that form a limited liability company based in the Twin Cities.

Numerous calls to Ginther were not returned for this story.

Kritzer said negotiations have been going on for the past two to three years, but the sides have not been that close.

Most recently, the township offered $10,000 per acre for five acres — a rate Kritzer said is “way over market value” — but the owners wanted $20,000 and up.

Kritzer said one of the reasons for the discrepancy is that the owners consider the land prime for commercial development, while the township is considering it farmland.

Because an offer seems to be far off, the next step would be to file for eminent domain, which Kritzer said could be done in Mower County court as early as Monday.

Kritzer said this would be a reasonable time for a governmental body to seize private land because it would benefit the community, but the process would still require a judge-appointed panel to decide the land’s value.

Those proceedings will likely mean the project is on hold until at least next spring, Mueller said.

“We’ve exhausted every avenue of negotiation,” he said. “We really have tried.”

Mueller had previously said a new system may have been in the ground this summer after the township received a $30,000 loan from the Cedar River Watershed District, but that was contingent on acquiring the property.

Mueller said the proposed system would consist of a number of mounds in the five-acre area.

The project would cost roughly $500,000, depending on what the farmland is valued at, and would be paid largely by two grants but also from tax assessments on Nicolville residents.