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Letter: Land grab is taking place in Nininger Township

To the editor,

We have been subjected to endless media reports of the Russian land grab in Crimea and the almost universal condemnation by Western governments. A very similar land grab is taking place in Nininger Township by Dakota County Parks. The landowners are virtually powerless to stop it as the County can use the threat of eminent domain to bully the landowners into accepting whatever they offer. A settlement regarding the Mauch property has been reported but is it in the Mauch’s best interest? They apparently have accepted a rather contorted settlement that involves buying the trail property, getting a conservation easement and at some future time the county has the right of first refusal on the house and two acres. Hastings Ford has a Mustang on the showroom floor that I would love to buy at the terms being offered to the Mauch’s for their home. It appears the county paid very much less than the property is worth on the commercial market. Rumors throughout the township say the Mauch’s cannot have an independent appraisal; they can only rely on the county appraiser. Now what could possibly go wrong here?

The Mauch’s had to retain an attorney at their expense to battle county attorneys with a virtually unlimited budget. The best part is the Mauch’s are paying taxes to pay the salaries of the people they are fighting with their own money.

The 2013 legislature passed a law that eliminated a tax break for conservation easements. Previously land with a conservation easement received a lower valuation due to the reduced development opportunities that no longer exist so the Mauch’s taxes will be based on the maximum land value even though they cannot develop it.

The county originally approached the Mauch’s and all other affected landowners with a request to buy land for a bike trail. That quickly escalated into a “let’s buy as many acres as we can”, well beyond what is required for a trail. The urgency to buy all these acres is predicated upon the potential loss of federal grant money if not spent by March 31. The loss of federal money should never constitute a reason to do anything, it only leads to poor decision making. The latest description is “greenway” which must sound better than bike trail.

As far as I know, the county does not have any publicized budget for acquisition, construction and maintenance for this trail section. The rumored costs are in the many millions of dollars with a severe disruption of the natural landscape. As a professional forester I attended many training sessions that explained how a trail by itself is an obstacle to many creatures no matter how it fits into the landscape. The county has claimed they will be better stewards of these lands than the existing landowners. I have seen many of these acres and there is no evidence of improper land use or poor forest management. Yes, there are invasive species present but that is common on thousands of forested acres in Minnesota. As an aside, several township residents commented that the existing bike trails were snowplowed before the roads were cleared. That is completely wrong!

The Dakota County Parks motto “Forever Wild” is the greatest fraudulent term I have heard of. That motto would be appropriate for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness but not in county parks with miles of trails of which many are paved with asphalt, picnic shelters, gathering places, parking lots and a wind turbine.