FARGO — The North Dakota Supreme Court overturned a lower court and found officials improperly used a streamlined eminent domain process called “quick grab” to secure a truss for the subway flood diversion project.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Cass County Joint Water Resources District, which is acquiring land for the $3.2 billion project, must use the standard eminent domain process to acquire land and other property belonging to Gene and Brenda Sauvageau.
“They are validating the rights of landowners,” Cash Aaland, the Savageaus’ lawyer, said Monday, May 16, in response to the Supreme Court ruling. Aaland said the Water Resources District was using the quick-take process to pressure the Savages into accepting an unfair offer.
“They’re not negotiating in good faith,” he said, adding that the North Dakota Supreme Court has now ruled twice that the district acted improperly in acquiring land. “You have a model here of Cass Joint violating landowner rights.”
Water resources district officials have used the quick grab process extensively to acquire property for the diversion project. Aaland and diversionary land acquisition officials gave differing views on the significance of the Sauvageau decision in shaping future land negotiations.
The streamlined quick-take process is inappropriate in the Savages’ case because officials were not simply acquiring an easement or right-of-way, or a parcel or strip of land, but to acquire all of their property, the judge wrote. Daniel Crothers in the notice.
“The taking of the district here is beyond the scope of (the law) for the acquisition of a right-of-way easement by a quick taking,” the opinion added. The Water Resources District must use the slower full eminent domain process when it “acquires a greater interest in the property,” the judges ruled.
“By characterizing the interest in the Sauvageaus’ property as a ‘permanent right-of-way easement,’ the District is attempting to circumvent the requirements and protections of homeowners” provided by law, the decision concluded.
The Sauvageaus own 7.8 acres of land and other properties near St. Benedict Church in rural Cass County, including a house and large garage, which the water resource told the couple she had needed in October 2021.
In November 2021, the Water Resources District notified the Savages that they had to vacate their property by March 15, but the North Dakota Supreme Court blocked the eviction and ruled April 28 in favor of the Savages.
The Water Resources District is offering $460,000 for the property, which it says matches the appraised value, but the Sauvageaus have rejected the offer and say they are also legally entitled to relocation assistance.
Earlier, the Water Resources District provided generous moving assistance for approximately 40 homeowners in the Oxbow Subdivision near the Oxbow Country Club. Citing one example, the owner not only received $600,000 for the house, but an additional $700,000 for relocation assistance, as no other houses were available in the subdivision.
By contrast, the Sauvageaus and other rural landowners are not being offered resettlement payments, Aaland said. In Stanley Township, where the Sauvageaus live, zoning rules require homes to occupy lots of at least 10 acres, he said.
“We are looking for a fair deal for our clients,” Aaland said, adding that the Sauvageaus are seeking lower relocation payments than those paid to Oxbow owners. He refused to divulge what the Sauvageaus are asking for in compensation.
“We’re going to litigate this until we get a fair deal,” Aaland said, noting that the Supreme Court’s rejection of the fast-track decision-making process in the Sauvageau case means the water resources district will have to change the way it negotiates with landowners. .
“They have to redo their whole procedure,” he said. Instead of filing the appraised value with the court and then gaining access to the land, the district will have to negotiate through the standard eminent domain process, Aaland said.
“They can’t do that anymore,” he said. Any cases that eventually go to trial will take a long time to resolve, Aaland said, noting that land compensation lawsuits involving the diversion project are now scheduled for 2024.
“They must respect the rights of landowners and treat them fairly,” he said. “Right now they are predatory.”
In acquiring land for the diversion, the Water Resources District “applied the same legal principles to all parties involved, to include the possibility of negotiations as well as access to mitigation programs and recovery assistance. resettlement,” Jodi Smith, director of lands and compliance for the Metro Flood Diversion Authority, said in a statement.
As of Monday, 27 prominent estate cases filed by the Water Resources District against Cass County landowners were pending. “We have dozens of clients that aren’t even in litigation yet,” Aaland said, including properties where the diversion is asking for drainage easements, which would allow water to temporarily pool on their properties. land when the project operates during extreme flooding.
Smith said the Supreme Court’s decision in the Sauvageau case will not force the Water Resources District to rethink how it negotiates to acquire land.
“The Sauvageau decision is closely tailored to the property of Gene and Brenda Sauvageau, which is factually different from the other properties” acquired for the diversion project, she said.
According to the court’s decision, the district will have to use due process of eminent domain to acquire property from the Savages, Smith said.