Tempers flared at Tuesday’s Ramsey County Commission meeting as the commissioners attempted to sort out who knew about the sale of land in northern Ramsey County to the North Dakota Game and Fish and what, if anything, the county could have done about it.
The owners of several hundred acres located in the Edmore area sold their land to the Game and Fish in June. The Game and Fish plans to turn it into a public hunting and fishing area. (see June 20 Devils Lake Journal)
Commissioner Scott Diseth said his phone had been ringing off the hook since the last meeting of the commission about this land deal.
Commissioner Ed Brown expressed his anger that he had not been informed of the $2M land deal until it was discussed at the commission meeting on June 19 that Terry Steinwand, who heads the NDG&F, attended. He said that all the commission members should have been informed before the meeting by the ones who knew about it. He said he had received several phone calls about the transaction, too.
Commission president Bill Mertens defended himself explaining that he was the one who had invited Steinwand to the June 19 meeting specifically to address the deal and to inform the commission what was happening. “That’s why he was at the meeting,” Mertens said.
A great deal of discussion accompanied this interchange, including input from members of the audience; How was the deal funded? What can be done when there is a willing seller and a willing buyer? What are their rights in the situation? What could the county have done about the deal if they had known about it beforehand?
In the end the commission voted to send a letter to the NDG&F stating their opposition to the deal, this passed with a four to one vote with Mertens voting against it. He said he’d rather wait and send it after they hold a meeting where everyone involved could explain what happened and help the county understand the details of the transaction.
That meeting will be set up as soon as possible. Meanwhile States attorney Lonnie Olson will be asked to research what North Dakota law says about this kind of deal and what, if anything, the county’s role in the process should have or could have been.
“We’re going to see more and more of this kind of thing, so it’s better that we are prepared for it,” Mertens said.
“Maybe there is something here that the legislature needs to address. This is the perfect time to deal with it as they head back into session.”
He reminded them that at the June 19 meeting Steinwand had promised they would be paying full taxes on the property and that they would be good neighbors. But what did that mean? “We need him to explain what that ‘good neighbor’ policy will be. How will landowners around the property be compensated as their property is impacted by what the Game and Fish does on that land,” Mertens said.
Page 2 of 2 - One landowner in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting cautioned the county to get whatever promises the Game and Fish makes in writing, explaining that in the early 1990s there was a similar situation involving the Kenner Marsh where promises had been made and 20 years later they still hadn’t been fulfilled.
Diseth was adamant that the Governor be included in the meeting, too. “We need to get on the record as soon as possible that we oppose this transaction and if it takes a change in the law to give us [the county] the right to have input in these kinds of transactions, then we need to begin that process now,” he said.