Eminent domain is an option for Kandiyohi County to obtain land needed for the Willmar Wye

BNSF engine

WILLMAR—While proceeding with eminent domain to acquire just over 36 acres of land needed for the Willmar Wye rail bypass project would be Kandiyohi County’s last resort, the county commissioners approved a resolution to allow that to happen if needed.

The resolution to start the eminent domain process passed unanimously at Tuesday’s county board meeting, though the county commissioners hope negotiations prove successful.

“It is a place holder, negotiation does not stop,” said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

Eminent domain laws allow the government, in this case the county, to take private property for public use or public purpose, like a road construction project. The government must pay the private owner for the property.

As a partner of the Willmar Wye project, Kandiyohi County is required to obtain the approximately 36 acres of land where the new BNSF rail line will be constructed. The county will own the land and BNSF will have a right-of-way to operate its track. The acres in question are owned by three different property owners and are located in a narrow strip running north to south just east of CSAH 55.

A delay in purchasing the land could delay the entire project.

“If it does not proceed in a timely matter, it has a huge tidal wave effect downstream if we have interruptions,” Madsen said.

The Willmar Wye project, estimated to cost around $47 million, is a private-public partnership between BNSF Railway, Kandiyohi County, the city of Willmar, MnDOT and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

The project includes the construction of a rail bypass track just west of Willmar, which will allow trains to continue travel south or west without having to turn engines around in Willmar. The overall project also includes the rerouting of U.S. Highway 12 to the south, construction of new overpass bridges and the completion of two roundabouts along the new Highway 12.

Construction on the road portion of the Wye began last summer and it’s scheduled to be completed in fall 2021. The rail portion of the project will begin in the spring of 2021 with the project expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.

Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Mel Odens said there is still time for negotiations to be successful. However, the hope is to close on the land purchases in May.

“There is a time we have to hit a timeline,” Odens said.

Odens said he could not go into any specifics about how negotiations are progressing, just that the land owners have received the county’s offer. The county is now waiting for the value the landowner’s appraisals calculated as the land’s worth. Negotiations have been cordial so far.

“We are not at the point of being adversarial,” Odens said. “It is more of a formality.”

West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud

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