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City says 'no' to eminent domain for Burr Oak extension; pays $97,000 to canceled contractor

The Chatfield News of Chatfield, Minnesota

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4The project to extend Burr Oak Avenue past the Chatfield High School and the mobile home court to Olmsted Co. Rd. 136 north of town ended when the Chatfield City Council voted 3-2 on July 13 against the use of eminent domain to acquire remaining holdout properties along the route. Councilor Ken Jacobson made a motion to approve the use of eminent domain, which was seconded by Ginny Engle. They were the only two "aye" votes as Dave Frank, Paul Novotny and Josh Thompson voted against the idea. Actually at that point, a number of motions that didn't pass meant this motion was tabled until a later meeting.

A revote on the eminent domain issue - taken Aug. 10 after City Attorney Fred Suhler had sent a letter to Don and Isy French making an offer on their property and he had gotten no response - received the same votes against/in favor of eminent domain. Therefore, property for the proposed Burr Oak project would not be acquired by eminent domain.

As reported in the Aug. 19 issue of the Chatfield News, Mayor Les Knutson announced, "In other words, folks, this project has been vacated."

Attorney Fred Suhler was then directed to contact Winona Mechanical - which had been awarded a contract for the Burr Oak extension project - to let the company know the project was canceled.

The city would end up paying "$97,000 in cash plus the return of the original performance bond certificates as a complete resolution of this dispute" with Winona Mechanical, as reported in the Dec. 30 issue of the Chatfield News.

Winona Mechanical presented a claim of $198,405 upon the city, noting it had a hole in its schedule due to the late season cancellation and could not secure other work.

Meetings were held between the city and Winona Mechanical to develop a settlement agreement without the costs of mediation, litigation or other formal legal proceedings.

Looking back at going ahead

The city council voted to accept Olmsted County's contract and contractor bids dated March 18 at the March 23 city council meeting.

The Burr Oak extension was to be a joint project between Olmsted County and the city. The county allotment toward the project was projected at $634,000, while Chatfield's was $60,000. The project had been formulating over a number of years. Originally, the project had looked at nearly $1 million coining from Olmsted County, but each year the project had not been done had seen those funds diminish.

The pressure of meeting a deadline set by the county - which had extended deadlines on the Burr Oak project over the years of project discussion - also was a factor in the council decision, as well as assurances property needed for the project would be available from owners along the intended street.

The April 1 issue of the Chatfield News reported:

"McGhie & Betts engineer Dave Morrill, who is contracted with and works for the city, informed the council that it would do well to award the contract 'before the next council meeting, and we also need to firm up agreements for easements because the property owners are agreeable, but we need to show that in writing.'"

Councilor Paul Novotny expressed concern over two property owners on the county side of the project who were not happy with easements.

City attorney Suhler said in an ideal situation the city would have valid purchase agreements, but noted that it didn't mean the city wouldn't get them.

Morrill said changes to the plan had occurred a month earlier. He also said he hadn't yet pursued changes with a property owner who didn't like the plans for his driveway.

The contract for $702,033 was awarded to low bidder Winona Mechanical. Its bid was valid through April 15, meaning a decision needed to be made

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Original Publication Date: January 6, 2010

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