What to do about getting access into a memorial forest owned by Pine County was part of a discussion of a county board committee of the whole meeting last Tuesday in Pine City.
There was no decision made at the meeting and it was referred back to the land committee, but some felt it was time to act on gaining access to the 1,120 acres.
The county is considering purchasing a permanent non-exclusive easement to build a road into the property, and would also establish a public parking lot. For the past several years, the county has been in communication and negotiating with land owners James and Wilda Obey of Munch Township to gain access into the property on Mallard Street, southeast of Hinckley.
County forester Greg Beck told commissioners they would like a road into the land to sell timber on the property. There are 300 acres of mature aspen on the property which could net the county $190,000. There is another 250 acres of immature aspen also on the property.
According to Beck, there is currently an old road on a section line that has been used in the past for forest practices, but now there is a locked gate on the road, and the county has asked but not been given access to their land. Beck said there are indications there is also some gravel on the property, which the county could use for some of their own projects.
“We are not talking about a commercial operation,” Beck said.
In July 2017, the county hired an appraisal to see how much an easement would be worth, and Moffatt Appraisals came up with a value of $8,000.
P. James Taurinskas, the Obey’s attorney, in a letter to County Attorney Reese Frederickson from January of this year, stated, “This threat of eminent domain has been a serious and threatening act by the county against Mr. and Mrs. Obey, especially in view of the fact that there are already existing public access roads to this area. They have been seriously challenged by such conduct and find it to be a cruel and invasive means of taking private property for such an unnecessary purpose.”
At the meeting, Beck said the other access road is over four miles long and is winter-access only, and has been told by people using the road that it is “high risk and scary” and “would be extremely expensive” to improve that road.
The county has been in communications with the Obeys on this matter since 2013. In a letter to the Obeys last fall, Frederickson said the county is considering instituting eminent domain proceedings in court if they can’t come to an agreement.
County Auditor Cathy Clemmer noted that if the county did use that road for the timber harvest, there would be higher costs for the forester, which would lead to less money for the harvestable wood for the county.
Clemmer also noted there would be more recreational opportunities for the public if the county could get an easement into the memorial forest.
“It’s not public land if the public can’t access it,” noted County Commissioner Stephen Hallan.
Clemmer recommended the county board make a decision on the matter and the land committee had already recommended getting an easement, but Hallan said he wanted the matter to go back to the committee again.