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Brainerd City Council: City foregoes appeal of BPU annexation case

With the deadline looming, the city of Brainerd opted not to pursue an appeal of the Brainerd Public Utilities annexation case--the result, an independent arbiter ruled, in favor of the city of Baxter.

Satellite view of the property in question, Brainerd Public Utilities. The two nearest neighborhoods: Berrywood Drive, is included in the upper left portion of the map, while parts of Eagle Ridge Road are on the right side of the image.
Satellite view of the property in question, Brainerd Public Utilities. The city of Brainerd will not appeal the ruling of the BPU annexation case. Satellite photo / Google Maps

With the deadline looming, the city of Brainerd opted not to pursue an appeal of the Brainerd Public Utilities annexation case-the result, an independent arbiter ruled, in favor of the city of Baxter.

"At this point we're not interested in following up with an appeal process," City Council President Dave Pritschet said after the council concluded a closed legal session at the end of Monday's meeting in city hall. "The understanding was, as cases go, it would be difficult to appeal it and we'll see if there is any other way to resolve the situation."

Pritschet said Brainerd, going forward, will bank on long-standing, beneficial partnerships between the two cities, as well as efforts to mend fences after an "adversarial relationship" permeated proceedings between Brainerd and Baxter during the annexation process.

If the opportunity arises for an alternative means to renegotiate provisions of Brainerd Public Utilities with Baxter, then the city will pursue it, Pritschet said, but until then the matter is settled.

Although it bears the name of Brainerd, the BPU wastewater treatment facility and its offices are located on a plot of 99.5 acres on Baxter's side of the boundary. The annexation case revolved around city attorneys and their attempts to unravel a complex and intertwining relationship the two cities have with the facility. BPU provides sewage for both Brainerd and Baxter, which the cities jointly pay for at a 2-1 ratio respectively and have done so for more than 30 years.

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Hearings on the matter were convened intermittently between Nov. 3 and Dec. 7, although the dispute dates to late 2015 and has roots in decisions going back decades. While Baxter officials have relayed their satisfaction with the current arrangement, the city of Brainerd moved to annex the property near Highland Scenic Road and incorporate it within Brainerd limits. At the time, Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk cited their motivations as a matter of "civic pride" and admitted there was "ego involved."

Civic pride wasn't enough to sway Judge James LaFave, an independent arbiter from the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings. In LaFave's deliberation, the city of Brainerd was unable to present a viable case for annexation in light of their crucial utilities arrangement with Baxter.

"Brainerd's primary motivation for this annexation is civic pride," LaFave stated in a court document detailing his March 2 ruling on the case. "That is understandable. But Brainerd submitted only minimal evidence that granting the petition would be in its best interest, and no evidence that the proposed concurrent detachment and annexation is in the best interests of Baxter. The law contemplates that a property's status quo must be maintained unless all parties benefit from its concurrent detachment and annexation. The petition must, therefore, be denied."

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