Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Special Ramsey County meeting heats up about land sale to Game & Fish

  • It was another heated exchange at a County Commission meeting Monday evening.

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  • It was another heated exchange at a County Commission meeting Monday evening. County residents on both sides of the argument filled the large basement meeting room of the Ramsey County Courthouse for the special meeting of the Ramsey County Commission. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about a large land sale that took place recently near Lawton.
    Landowners of 1,793.36 acres of land sold their property to the North Dakota Game and Fish. The $2M deal was completed without the surrounding neighbors and elected county officials knowing about it. That left many questions about the process that was followed and what, if anything, the county could have or should have done about it.
    The Ramsey County Commission first learned about the land deal on June 19 at a county meeting when Terry Steinwand, who heads the NDG&F attended to talk about it. At that time he informed the commission that the land would be developed and eventually turned into a public hunting area.
    At that meeting in June three of the commissioners expressed their anger that they were not told about the deal by two of their members who had heard about it beforehand.
    Under fire were commissioners Bill Mertens and Joe Belford who both admitted to hearing about the land deal prior to the June meeting. “The first thing I did when I heard about it was call Steinwand and invite him to the next commission meeting so he could explain what was happening,” Mertens explained.
    However, to everyone’s surprise, that was too late to do anything about the deal, according to Steinwand who said at the June meeting, “You’re about six hours too late,” when he was asked if there was anything that could be done to stop the sale.
    It was still an issue of contention at the next commission meeting on July 3, so Mertens said he would get in touch with Steinwand, invite him, the former landowners, the concerned neighbors and other interested county residents to a special meeting allowing them the opportunity to ask questions about the deal and how it came about.
    Mertens also asked Ramsey County States Attorney Lonnie Olson to do some research of the Century Code to determine what, if anything, the county could have done about the land deal before the special meeting.
    Special Meeting
    The special meeting Monday evening opened with Steinwand explaining why he came to the county meeting in June. He said they had been working for a couple of years on this land deal with the legislature and they’d gone through the process required by law. He admitted that perhaps the county and the surrounding neighbors should have been informed, but that because it was a willing seller who approached them for the sale, the Game and Fish was not required by law to hold public meetings or get public input because no federal aid dollars would be involved in the transaction.
    Page 2 of 3 - One comment, echoed by several others, was that once the Game and Fish obtained the land, it was theirs forever. It would never be returned to farmland and that would have a significant negative impact on the economy of the area.
    Several questioned why there hadn’t been public notice of the land deal and an opportunity for public comment.
    Questions arose at the meeting about where the funding for the land deal actually came from and Steinwand responded that multiple agencies and grants were involved, but none of them had involved federal aid dollars.
    One person said, “It’s all tax dollars that you used, even if it wasn’t federal aid dollars, you still should have gone to local government.”
    He admitted that the Game and Fish deputy director’s retirement around the same time as the deal was made may be the reason that all their bases didn’t get covered.
    He also stated that the land would not be turned over to Fish and Wildlife, “I promise you that, and I’ll put that in writing if you like,” Steinwand said.
    Another person stated that he thought the people at the meeting there were acting like children who didn’t get their way and that it was none of their business if a person wanted to sell their land. That met with a round of applause from several in attendance.
    States Attorney Olson explained from the Century Code that nothing illegal had been done, that as far as he could see the Game and Fish and the sellers of the land had acted within the code of North Dakota law.
    The sellers of the land were not in attendance at this meeting.
    Commissioner Scott Diseth questioned that even though nothing illegal had been done, he asked “What about what is the right thing to do?”
    Some who live near the land in question stated their concerns about feeding the increased wildlife from their own crops. Steinwand mentioned that food plots in the hunting area might be included to try to alleviate that.
    Steinwand told the crowd that the District 15 legislators may not have been aware of the land deal either because it was handled through appropriations committee on the legislative level.
    If questions remained, they should contact Reps. Dennis Johnson, Curt Hofstad and Sen. Dave Oehlke personally to find out what they knew about the land deal.
    Although there remained considerable opposition to the transaction Steinwand said it was not going to be reversed. “We’ve signed the purchase agreement and we are going ahead with it,” he said, promising to be a good neighbor and paying full taxes on the assessed value of the land in the county.
    Page 3 of 3 - Commissioner Ed Brown outright asked Steinwand if he would consider reversing the transaction and his reply was “No.”
    The group did come to a consensus that if a landowner is a willing seller, they can sell their land to whomever they wish.
    Mertens suggested that if people were still upset about the way this happened, that perhaps they need to contact the legislature and new laws or regulations put in place to govern this kind of transaction in the future. “You know this is going to come up again.” he said.
    He also asked Steinwand to consider the food plots to ease the stress on farmers’ crops and to look into some way to help the area farmers with the increased traffic due to hunting, as a way to better the area’s roads they all would need.
    A video of some of the comments from this meeting will be posted on our website www.devilslakejournal.com.

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