Landowners dispute Rural Water easement
A disagreement between property owners and Stutsman Rural Water District over land easements required the intervention of a Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office deputy Thursday.
Susan Roemmich said property located north of the U.S. Highway 281 bypass owned by her and Thilmer Roemmich and farmed by Brandon Roemmich was dug up by crews of Stutsman Rural Water District even though they had not signed a land easement for the project that would provide water to a neighboring residence.
Stutsman Rural Water District General Manager Geneva Kaiser said the district had contracted with the engineering firm Bartlett & West to negotiate all construction easements. Kaiser said that firm had attempted to contact the Roemmichs numerous times by phone, mail and in person.
Susan Roemmich said no one from or representing Stutsman Rural Water District had attempted to contact them to negotiate an easement.
The Roemmichs were on the land with a Stutsman County deputy Thursday afternoon while excavations continued on the edge of the field. The deputy informed the Roemmichs the issue was a civil matter, and no criminal laws were broken.
Brandon Roemmich said they had first received correspondence from Scott Sandness, attorney for Sutsman Rural Water, last week. The Roemmichs were served with court documents dated Aug. 11 later last week.
The court documents included a quick claim eminent domain easement. The document included a paragraph that said numerous attempts had been made to negotiate with the property owners. The easement gives Rural Water the right to install a water line across the property but does not transfer ownership of the land.
Rural Water deposited what it considered fair market value for the easement with Southeast District Court. Kaiser said Rural Water determined the value of the easement at $618.78, which represented 25 percent of the highest value of land in Stutsman County for the 0.89-acre easement.
The Roemmichs could challenge the value of the easement in court within 60 days when the quick claim eminent domain order was issued.
This process of eminent domain is specific to rural water districts, Kaiser said.
“The law was put in the (North Dakota) Century Code so people don’t have the ability to stop their neighbors from getting water,” she said. “Everybody has the right to good water.”
Susan Roemmich said the family would go to the Stutsman County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center and attempt to enlist the help of the sheriff and the Stutsman County state’s attorney in the matter.
This is a property owner rights issue,” Brandon Roemmich said.
They also plan to seek the assistance of property rights groups.
Kaiser said the situation was regrettable but an isolated situation.
“We hire Bartlett & West to negotiate so there is a buffer between us and the landowner,” she said. “Bartlett & West got thousands of easements, and this is the first condemnation we’ve had to deal with.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org