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Bad decision (02/13/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

Boundary disputes are among the most contentious of all litigations. After all, they are very often about people’s homes, a topic that can elicit a visceral response.

In Winona County, a dispute over boundaries in Elba has been going on for years. A ruling in 2004 by Judge Lawrence Collins, based on a 1998 survey, not only skewed all the property lines in Lot 80, but placed the boundary between two properties in Elba directly through one party’s home. The fight between those neighbors since that time has been chronicled in the newspaper over and over.

It would seem obvious that a ruling that takes a person’s home is neither fair, nor does it serve the good of the public. If a person can’t be sure that his home—which was built in good faith upon a 1975 survey—is safe, then how can we rely on the courts to act for the public good at all?

In Winona County, which has many challenges for surveyors because of its irregular terrain, an effort was made to address irregularities in the way property lines have been drawn. In 2007, the County Board formed a Boundary Commission for the express purpose of finding a solution to the conflicting surveys and to find an equitable way to address those boundary disputes.

The Boundary Commission presented a plan to the court, as it was charged to do. But Judge Leahy, according to the County Attorney, declined to overturn Judge Collins’ decision, so the dispute remains, and the work of the commission was just wasted time.

Jeff Broberg, a member of the Boundary Commission, was quite vocal in his disappointment with Judge Leahy’s ruling. He says that Judge Collins’ ruling was made without all of the pertinent information, and that a failure to override Collins’ ruling has resulted in wasted work from the commission and leaves the property owners in limbo once again.

At least the County Board has declined to assess the property owners in Lot 80 for the work of the county and its commission. That would certainly have been pouring salt on the wounds of the property owners. However, someone has to pay for the work done, which was considerable. Cost of outside consultants added up to $42,000. That, however is not the total outlay. There is the cost to the County Attorney’s office, the County Surveyor’s office, and the County Recorder’s office, not to mention the time put in by citizens who served on the Boundary Commission.

Certainly it should be incumbent upon the courts to do the right thing, no matter that it would involve overturning a previous district court ruling. By refusing to issue a new judgement, based upon more complete data, the court has done a real disservice to the property owners in Lot 80, and to all of us, who will pay for this fiasco financially and as a precedent, apparently, for future land disputes. 


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