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Roseau County Landowners Demand Watershed District Disavow Eminent Domain, Receive No Guarantee Their Property Is Safe

The Roseau County Landowners Coalition attended a Roseau Lake project work session earlier this month to demand that the Roseau River Watershed District (RRWD) abandon its plans to force farmers to install flood easements on or sell their productive, multi-generational farmland.

The RRWD’s unnecessary and costly flood mitigation project requires the acquisition of property that is owned by farmers and landowners who do not want to sell. If the RRWD wants to build its current vision, they will have to use eminent domain to acquire easements, against the will of the property owners. An “easement” is a taking of property, and will render the farmers’ taken property useless.

Property owners were hopeful that the RRWD would disavow taking their land, but unfortunately they left the work session with renewed clarity: the threat of losing their land for this project remains. The RRWD Board Chairman refused to go on record against using eminent domain.

“The Roseau County Landowners Coalition’s position is simple: we will not support a project that takes private property away from unwilling sellers. Easements are takings, and these easements would render much of these farmers’ land unfarmable,” said Melanie Benit, an activism associate with the Institute for Justice (IJ), which is assisting the Landowners Coalition. “We are grateful for the support of individual board members who committed to respecting Roseau landowners’ property rights, but it is disappointing that the board as a whole could not. This should outrage farmers throughout the region.”

This “lake rehabilitation” project proposes a combination of embankments and flood control gates. predominantly on private land, to keep excess water in the historic basin. In order to either acquire the land outright or force an easement on these private lands, the RRWD would have to take unwilling sellers to court through eminent domain proceedings. Taking the land outright or by easement makes no difference to the farmers, as either is a loss of farmable property.

All this for a project with little to no benefit. Coalition members have been farming this land for decades, installing their own culverts and control systems to manage flooding. This has allowed them to let enough water on their land to fertilize it, then drain any excess water when necessary. This current system will be undone by the proposed project, turning the usually dry basin into a semi-permanent marsh.

The project will:
• Produce minimal flood reduction, and will do nothing for major flooding events.
• Exacerbate flooding on private property near the basin.
• Swap one wildlife habitat (deer and other upland game frequent the area now) for another.
• Cost at minimum $15 million.

Farmers and landowners have been fighting this project for years, scared to lose what they have worked so hard to own, for good reason. These are real families that have a connection to their farms lasting for generations, with the intention of lasting for generations more. Consider Mitch Magnusson, who grew up on his Roseau farm and has worked his own land since the 1980s; his great grandfather put down roots there in 1895. Now, Mitch’s children carry on the family tradition, farming wheat, soybean, sunflowers and more.

It’s time for the RRWD Board to give the people they represent peace of mind and assure everyone that their work in and around the Roseau Lake basin will not use government force to acquire property.

The Roseau County Landowners Coalition has created a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/StopRoseauFarmsLandgrab/, and a website, http://roseaulandgrab.com, to educate and garner support for families like Mitch’s.

About the Institute for Justice
Through strategic litigation, training, communication, activism and research, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. IJ litigates to secure economic liberty, educational choice, private property rights, freedom of speech and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government.

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