Cass County Board: Commissioners weigh in on cartway dispute

BACKUS--A quorum of the Cass County Board voted Tuesday to approve a resolution that would designate a cartway along either side of an east-west section line in the unorganized area of the northeast part of the county.

BACKUS-A quorum of the Cass County Board voted Tuesday to approve a resolution that would designate a cartway along either side of an east-west section line in the unorganized area of the northeast part of the county.

The resolution calls for 16 feet for the cartway to come from north of the line and 16 feet to come from south of the line.

Commissioners Rob Kangas, Jeff Peterson and Dick Downham, who viewed the site last fall voted to approve. Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk, who has not viewed the site, abstained. Commissioner Scott Bruns did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Their decision is likely to be challenged in court.

Mark Dorholt, who owns property at the end of the proposed cartway, originally petitioned in 2016 for it to be designated under state statutes that require local governments to provide access between a public road and land-locked private property of five acres or more in size.


He sought an access road that would come fully from two properties south of the line. He asked for 33-foot wide cartway across a 40-acre site David and Samantha Nikkel own and an easement across a 40-acre site the county owns.

Between those parcels and his property, Dorholt said he already has a 33-foot easement south of the line across property Jeffrey Miller owns.

If the cartway centerline follows the dividing line between sections as the board resolution states, it would mean 16 feet of the cartway or the north half would have to come from two 40-acre parcels Blandin owns. These sit north of the Nikkel and county properties.

The approved county resolution further states the cartway petitioner, Dorholt, would be responsible to pay for having a property line survey, for appraisals for property to be taken, for all costs to compensate abutting property owners for their loss of land and for any legal and other fees incurred.

It specifically states "no public funds shall be spent to open or maintain said cartway."

Nikkel told the county board he does not believe he should have to bear the whole burden of 33 feet, but rather only the approved 16 feet along his property line.

He also informed the board that people historically have used an unofficial trail from the south, which he said is drivable with a pickup truck today, to reach Dorholt's property. It crosses state of Minnesota property, he said, though he is unaware of any formal easement.

Dennis O'Toole, attorney for Blandin, informed the board the 80-acre tract where the county cartway would encroach on a 16-foot strip is part of 187,000 acres Blandin placed in a conservation easement with the state.


Outdoor Heritage Council money partially funded the conservation easement, he said, adding he believes the conservation easement makes the state a co-owner of the Blandin property.

The county does not have authority to take land from the state, he said.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources attorney Jill Schlick Nguyen also sent a letter objecting to placing half of the cartway on Blandin land.

A prior court decision ruled state statutes grant counties general condemnation authority, but that authority does not extend to the state, she wrote.

"The Blandin Paper Company land has been put to public use through the creation of a conservation easement that preserves the property as a working forest and allows recreational use by the public. Establishing a cartway across the property for the benefit of a private landowner is inconsistent with this public use," she wrote.

O'Toole said the conservation easement restricts the amount of land within the easement area to only 2 percent allowed to be used for roads. He said Blandin did not want to use any of that allotment for a private individual's benefit.

County Attorney Christopher Strandlie informed the county board he does not view the state's conservation easement as being the same as being an owner of the property. Therefore, he believes the county can take the 16-foot strip to create a cartway.

"Why should Mr. Nikkel bear the full loss of property?" Strandlie asked.


The board's vote places the centerline of the cartway on the section line, thus taking a 16-foot strip from the county and Nikkels and a 16-foot strip from Blandin.

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