For Winona Leasing and Sales and Severson's Sinclair gas station, the remainder of their efforts to seek a fair price for their properties may take place in court. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) filed petitions for condemnation of those properties on August 11, initiating the eminent domain process. According to court records, Mn/DOT had not yet filed a petition for condemnation of the AmericInn when the Winona post went to press.
There is still a month before Mn/DOT must file for condemnation of all the properties remaining in the new bridge right of way to stay on track for construction. Mn/DOT has a January 1, 2015, deadline for acquiring the properties, and, per Minnesota law, Mn/DOT may seize a property 90 days after petitions are filed. Voluntary purchase agreements may still be struck after petitions are filed.
Mn/DOT officials could not be reached for comment.
Winona Leasing and Sales owner John Cunningham said that he received a written offer from Mn/DOT in January or February of 2014 and a second verbal offer in March or April, which Mn/DOT officials refused to put in writing. Cunningham said that apart from those two offers, Mn/DOT has had no contact with him. "I don't think they've been overly zealous on their negotiation," he commented. "They couldn't care less," he added. "[The project] is going to happen and they know it's going to happen. They've got to cover their tail so they're going to bid low on everything."
Mn/DOT-city cost negotiations
Mn/DOT may not pay for proposed overlooks on the bicycle and pedestrian path on the new concrete box girder bridge, according to a document Project Manager Terry Ward provided to Winona City Council members on Monday. The overlooks were the most important aesthetic improvements for the Visual Quality Committee (VQC), a group of Winonans organized by Mn/DOT to beautify Mn/DOT's plans for the concrete bridge. Mn/DOT commitments to helping pay for railings, abutment treatments, and lighting improvements were listed as "TBD" on the document.
Ward also informed the council that Mn/DOT is not allowed to spend more than $3 million on aesthetic improvements to the new concrete box girder bridge. That does mean Mn/DOT will spend that much, but that is the maximum, Ward said. Rough cost estimates for aesthetic recommendations made by the VQC total $4.1 million. However, a few of those recommendations — including a proposed staircase — have been classified as operational improvements, not aesthetic improvements, by Mn/DOT, freeing them from the $3 million cap.