Preston-to Forestville eminent
domain case comes to an end
Thursday, January 02, 2014 2:17 AM
"I'm glad it's over," said John Snyder.
Snyder and his wife, Bernadette, and the Vernon and Kay Ristau family, have been dealing with a dispute over the legality of a proposed Preston-to-Forestville recreational trail for many years.
The Snyder and Ristau families became legally involved on March 2, 2009, when the city of Preston invoked the use of eminent domain to acquire two parcels of land the Snyder and Ristau families owned. The families sued the city later in the year, which began a due process roller coaster.
Third District Court Judge Jeffrey D. Thompson ruled in favor of the city in 2012, but the landowners appealed the ruling.
On Feb. 11, 2013, the case was remanded back to the District Court due to insufficient reasoning from Judge Thompson.
Following a failed bid to have the Minnesota Supreme Court hear their case, the appellants received a reversal of the District Courts decision on July 8. It had been determined that the trail was not legal under statute.
The city of Preston held a series of closed meetings following regularly scheduled and public council meetings to determine what post-trial action they could take. Following a request made by the appellants for the attorney's fees to be rectified, the city determined it would appeal that request. During the hearing for the approval of the appellants' request, City Attorney Dwight Luhmann presented several arguments against the request.
Luhmann explained in a later interview that because of the lawful trail dispute, concern over the city's exercising eminent domain had become second priority. An argument was made for the attorney's fees not to be requested because the city had followed the law in exercising eminent domain. The request to send the attorney's fees to the city was still approved.
Luhmann noted it was ironic that the city had relied on what they perceived to be legislated authority in their use of eminent domain, only to have Minnesota Statute 117.031 subd. (b) interpreted as their having engaged in unlawful taking.
In what was the last development in the Snyder and Ristau versus City of Preston case, the Preston City Council approved the payment of $85,165.79 for attorney fees and other costs associated with the trials at its Dec. 16 meeting.
After the meeting, Luhmann explained the council had previously determined that the success of an appeal on the reversed decision would be unlikely. "I think the consensus is that something would have to happen at the Legislature," he said.
In order to make the Preston-Forestville trail legal under statute, the Legislature would need to amend the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act of 1975, which the courts found did not explicitly authorize the Preston-to-Forestville segment of trail.
Luhmann said $985,000 had already been appropriated by the Legislature over five years ago for that specific segment of trail. Until something changes at the statutory level, the Snyder and Ristau families will have their land.
"I've learned a lot about how our government works and how the court systems work," said Snyder, noting that such learning had been good for him. However, he pointed to the case as an example of freedoms being slowly taken away.
Snyder explained further that it would have set a dangerous precedent for the city to have been able to go outside of its boundaries to condemn land for recreational purposes.
"Eminent domain is for public use like roads and power lines," he said.
"Am I tired of fighting? Yeah, I am, but freedom is worth fighting for," Snyder added.
He also said that things could change again if the Legislature amends language in the Outdoor Recreation Act. If that happens, he stated he would be back to stand against any litigation. "I used to be a guy that would sit back and not speak up, but sometimes you have to speak up and say what you believe in."
Though the trial is over, the issues and opinions on both sides will continue.