The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors again postponed the discussion of the Logan Township sections 8 and 9 right of way vacation, around the bend of county highway R50 before it enters Minnesota, to Sept. 3 at 9 a.m.
The Supervisors tried to discuss the excess right-of-way vacation resolution again during their meeting Aug. 20, but since county engineer Scott Meinders was not present at the meeting for personal reasons, they could not hold as comprehensive a discussion as they would have reached.
“The conversation is kind of tough without the engineer being here,” Supervisor Chairman Terry Durby said.
They did, however, hear from county attorney Kelsey Beenken, who told them they did not in fact own the land through the title; they owned it through an easement, as they had originally thought.
“[The reported easement documents] are in fact conveyances of easement,” Beenken said. “I think people are probably getting hung up on the word ‘settle,’ but what was sold was actually the easement.”
Durby said it sounds like the supervisors did the proper thing in conveying the excess right of way land back to the original landowners.
“I guess the discussion we’ve had previously, ‘Did we do the right thing by leaving it in the condition that it’s in?’” Durby said.
Supervisor Mike Stensrud said normally the owner of the land brings it to the county, not the other way around.
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“So I’m not sure that totally engaged what we’ve talked about,” he said.
Beenken said it’s normal for the county to get rid of any land that they’re not using, and under Iowa Code with the conditions of this situation, the Supervisors can vacate the land without a public hearing.
“Even if we had done a public hearing, even though we weren’t required to, the only claim for damages a property owner would have is if there was a homestead on the property and our vacating the roads somehow alters or denies that homeowner access to the property,” she said. “So in regard to any damages on a vacation, I’m not sure either property would qualify, even if there was a public hearing.”
The Supervisors now have two options, according to Beenken: they could leave the land alone and let the current landowners deal with it, as they are not part of a drainage district and the Supervisors were completely within their legal rights to vacate the property, or they could try to buy a new easement on the same property since they cannot reverse a vacation.
After the landowners from the area attending the meeting expressed disappointment in Meinders’s actions in vacating the property without telling them, the Supervisors said they wanted to have the same discussion again with Meinders’s input, as they could not talk about how he handled it without him present or notified that they would do so and they would like his opinion on how to handle the situation.
The situation came up after beaver dams continued to block the drainage channel for the area, and since it was excess right of way land the county did not need, Meinders had recommended that the board vacate the land, which they did.
Last week, a couple of landowners from the area came before the board saying they shouldn’t have vacated the land, as they have now left unfarmable land, whcih has been in the county’s possession and neglected for 50 years, in the hands of the new landowners, essentially dumping the problem on them.
As they could not make an informed decision this week, the Supervisors will discuss the matter further with Meinders and the landowners during their meeting Sept. 3.