Eminent domain allowed in Victory Drive project: Mankato MN Free Press, 2/3/07

By Dan Linehan

Blue Earth County [MN] can use eminent domain to take the land in the way of a Victory Drive expansion, a judge said Friday, but negotiations as to how much it will cost the public are nowhere near finished.

It didn’t take long for District Court Judge Norbert Smith to find that the land is being seized for a public purpose, which is the first of two main requirements for eminent domain. He called it “an obvious public use issue.”

The second rule — that the government must pay a fair price for the land — is the tricky one.

The county hired an appraiser to determine the land’s value and agreed to give a total of about $5.9 million to the owners of the six parcels that are in the road’s way. But none of the property owners have agreed to that price.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says private property can’t be taken for public use without “just compensation.”

The issue wasn’t discussed at the hearing, aside from the appointment of a three-member commission that will decide on what the government will pay if the parties still can’t come to an agreement. All three have served in this role in earlier Victory Drive phases.

They are Dan Wingert, Mike Miller and Jeff Kaul.

Property owners who reject the commission’s determination can request a jury trial.

Construction on the third and final phase isn’t expected to begin until 2008, but razing the buildings in the area and relocating the businesses is a big task.

In August, the County Board agreed to a route through Rasmussen College, easily the most expensive property on the route and probably the most difficult one to relocate. The county’s appraisal values the land and the building at $3.2 million.

He didn’t return phone calls seeking comment Friday, but Rasmussen College, Inc. CEO Michael Locke said in August that the school doesn’t want to move after 10 years in that spot. But, if forced, he prefers a location close enough so that the school’s 400 students aren’t inconvenienced.

Locke also said then that it takes about a year for the school to acquire land and build. And the new location will need to be operational before the existing one can be demolished.

Also in Victory Drive’s path is Belle Mar Mall.

Much of the space that the road will need is vacant, but the Moose Lodge could be forced to relocate.

Lodge members complain that this word — “could” — has been haunting them for years, said Donna Jean Peterson, secretary of the fraternity’s business arm.

Mankato MN Free Press: http://www.mankatofreepress.com