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Devils Lake mulls eminent domain on family farm

The Devils Lake City Commission is discussing today the acquisition of part of Mertens Farms for flood protection.

“It’s an eminent domain proceeding for the embankment,” said Tom Traynor, city attorney. Eminent domain is a government’s right to take property from landowners for public use with proper compensation.

The legal tactic has been applied to “a small minority” of land the city has acquired for its flood embankment, which is currently about 12 miles long, Traynor said.

Now, “the city has rights to all of the land it needs for the embankment,” he said.

The meeting today is regarding payment for 10 acres of Mertens Farms, Traynor said. The city pays for eminent domain property according to an appraisal, and landowners can then dispute the price with a different appraisal, he said.

Mertens Farms is about 75 acres total, according to Ramsey County records.

No one answered the phone number listed for Mertens Farms and an answering machine did not pick up when the Herald called seeking comment.

This is not the first time a landowner has disputed payment in an eminent domain process for the embankment, Traynor said, but he said it is uncommon.

The city has negotiated with several landowners over the years the embankment has been put in place, he said.

The flood protection is to mitigate rising water levels of Devils Lake. The first embankment was constructed in 1984, according to the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board.

Mertens Farms has been in the Devils Lake area since 1957, according to Lakeview Dairy.

Mike Mertens, owner of Lakeview Dairy, said his dairy, which supplies Land O’Lakes dairy products regionally, is also owned by members of the Mertens family.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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