Landowners' witness says easements the 'norm' for pipeline routes

WILLMAR -- A witness for landowners fighting the city's attempt to buy land for a proposed sewer line testified that obtaining a permanent easement rather than purchasing land is the norm for allowing a sewer line corridor.

WILLMAR -- A witness for landowners fighting the city's attempt to buy land for a proposed sewer line testified that obtaining a permanent easement rather than purchasing land is the norm for allowing a sewer line corridor.

Harold Voth of Minneapolis, a civil engineer with 25 years of working on wastewater conveyance and treatment systems, testified that easements rather than purchases were the norm during his work with the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services wastewater treatment program and its more than 500 miles of pipelines.

Voth, an engineer with the firm HDR, said sewer line corridors were established mainly through easements. He said potential conflicts between the pipeline authority and the surface user could be negotiated in the easement.

Voth testified on behalf of Phillip Kvam and other landowners who oppose the city of Willmar's attempt to acquire 11 parcels of farmland located along the sewer line route between 30th Street Southwest and the site of the city's proposed wastewater treatment plant located just west of County Road 116.

The city is asking the court to order the title and possession of the farmland parcels be transferred to the city. A total of 37 parcels along 28th Avenue/30th Avenue, between the city and the plant site, are required for the corridor. Some parcels have already been bought by the city.


Landowners were first notified that the city wanted easements, which would keep the land in private ownership but would let the city use the land to build and maintain the sewer line.

However, city officials and treatment plant consultants discussed the advantages and disadvantages of easements versus acquisition. Landowners were notified in October 2007 that the city wanted to acquire the land.

The city's view is that the cost would not necessarily be less if the city were to take easements instead of acquisition because of the likelihood that the owners would claim additional damages in future years such as reduced crop productivity due to the soil being disturbed during construction.

The hearing before Judge David Mennis in Kandiyohi County District was continued from Jan. 17 and Feb. 7.

John Kolb of St. Cloud, the landowners' attorney, asked Voth how quickly the operator of a force main sewer pipe operator would be notified if a blockage or other problem occurred in the pipe.

(Willmar's new plant will receive municipal waste from a gravity-operated interceptor sewer line and industrial waste from Jennie-O Turkey Store in a force main).

Voth said a force main pipeline operator would usually have weeks, if not a month's, notice that something is reducing capacity and that maintenance is required.

However, city attorney Robert Lindall of Minneapolis recalled Craig Holmes, program manager for treatment plant project consultant Donohue and Associates, to testify. Holmes said a plug could occur if Jennie-O's pretreatment plant fails, requiring immediate pipeline access.


Voth said inspection would usually be done once every five years and that repairs either performed with out without excavation would be done maybe once every 50 years. His testimony bolstered landowners' arguments that right-of-entry for inspection and repair purposes could be allowed by easement rather than through purchase.

Kvam testified the landowners configured several pieces of property into a larger piece to improve the efficiency of their farming operation. He testified the landowners would be unable to farm across the corridor and that they would be limited to certain crossing points that don't support their equipment.

Also, Kvam testified the sewer line corridor limits the landowners' ability to install drain tile and limits the flow through Kvam's tile line from adjacent property to a county ditch.

After the landowners' hearing concluded mid-afternoon, the judge considered the testimony of landowner Wallace Janssen of Willmar who opposes the city's attempt to buy some of his 2-acre property for the interceptor sewer at the intersection of 28th Avenue Southwest and 15th Street Southwest.

Janssen's attorney, Jon Saunders of Bird Island, said Janssen does not understand why the city needs to take his land when easement would work just as well.

"We'll have a pipeline that is 42 feet underground with nothing poking up above-ground,'' Saunders told the Tribune. "They are going to take 600 feet to stub into his farmland, which will be a nuisance or at least an invitation (to trespassers) to come onto that area, which is a concern for my client.''

Janssen also testified he was concerned that the sewer line project would limit entry and exit to him or tenants farming his land.

But Holmes testified the city would grant access to the property. Saunders said this was the first time that he and Janssen had been notified about that assurance of access.


Judge Mennis said he will rule as soon as attorneys for both sides submit written arguments and rebuttals.

What To Read Next
Get Local