Commission moves on ‘death trap’

The intersection of U.S. Highway 83 with the U.S. Highways 2 and 52 Bypass southwest of Minot may soon become something other than the “death trap” Ward County Commissioner Alan Walter described it as at a meeting last month. Commissioners passed a resolution, drafted by Walter, “to address the dangerous intersection” Tuesday morning.

While plans have not been drawn up for what exactly to do with the intersection, the resolution is just the first step.

Walter cited a traffic increase of 57 percent on U.S. Highways 2 and 52 west of the intersection and 27 percent east of the intersection, as well as an increase of 67 percent on U.S. Highway 83 north of the intersection as reasons for something to be done.

The issue has been an emotionally charged one since the death of Megan Shoal, 21, Plentywood, Mont., in a major crash there that also resulted in several other injuries, and substantial damage to many of the eight vehicles involved. The driver of the 1996 Kenworth semi-truck said by the North Dakota Highway Patrol to have caused the initial impact in the pile-up, Clark Christensen, 57, Shelley, Idaho, has not been charged with any crimes, according to the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office.

For now, the commissioners call for an interchange to be constructed in lieu of the standard, signaled set-up between the major highways.

Rice Lake moves

against farmers

Rice Lake Service District has filed suit for eminent domain over easements on the land of area farmers who have not signed away land for a pipeline to go across their land to help to drain Rice Lake, which has risen several inches over the summer.

The idea of a lawsuit has been in the works for some time, with former District board member Bob Hargrave mentioning at a county meeting in April that if easements couldn’t be obtained through traditional means then the District may have to see the farmers in court. According to the complaint, the Rice Lake Service District (RLSD) adopted a resolution in December 2012 “authorizing the use of condemnation proceedings for construction of the Flood Control Project (the pipeline) which requires the RLSD to acquire certain interests in real property for the construction of said project.”

The complaint mentions three specific families, and lists members individually to meet the complaints definition of the defendants as “all persons appearing of record or known by Plaintiff to be owners or claimants of the property that is the subject of this condemnation action.”

In earlier talks with The Minot Daily News, members of the board were wary of naming how many landowners had signed away easements on their land already and how many were left to sign. None of the names mentioned in the complaint are recognizable as landowners who have shown up at county meetings against the easement projects.

Should the RLSD win their suit, the complaint also makes the provision that “just compensation be ascertained and awarded to the defendants.”

The legal suit came as a surprise to the Ward County Commissioners, and the first they had heard of it is when Commissioner Shelly Weppler gave the complaint to the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office the morning of June 6 after she was served with it at her home the night before.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl had concerns that the RLSD was using the county commissioners as a means to level their case since the RLSD defines themselves as a “recreation service district and a North Dakota political subdivision.” As a subdivision, they would be divided under Ward County. The commissioners agreed to have State’s Attorney Roza Larson go over the complaint fully to make sure that the commissioners are not being made a part of the plaintiff’s cause.

Other business

– Although paying the bills is usually a routine measure at each County Commission meeting, one entry drew wide-eyes from certain commissioners and led to a discussion of what was seen as an exorbitant price. The bill was for about $20,000 from the Minot law firm Pringle and Herigstad for a single hearing in District Court. The hearing was for the commitment of a sexually dangerous criminal and, according to county Auditor and Treasurer Devra Smestad, “$250 an hour is the going rate” for such services. “And we have the budget for this?” Fjeldahl asked. “Not if they keep coming in at this rate, no,” said Smestad. The county is liable for the defense of indigent defendants in district court.

– County engineer Dana Larsen was given the go-ahead to make improvements to county roads inundated by water, including roads that will have to have a very high grade raise. One grade, already risen quite high, was already impassable and would have to be raised further.