A group of Baldwin Township residents recently learned the township took back a portion of their properties more than 30 years ago.
The residents came to the March 4 meeting of the town board to learn more about the land deal and the lack of transparency under which the deal was made.
In 2012, the board was notified that “no trespassing” signs were put up at the public access point to Lake Helene. Township officials had the signs removed. An investigation revealed that back in the 1980s, Baldwin Township had vacated the property, giving 50 feet of shore land to each adjoining property owner. Almost a decade later, the township attorney issued an opinion that the township cannot simply give away public land, so the township “unvacated” this 100 feet of lakeshore property. In the meantime, however, Sherburne County issued a permit to a landowner to install a septic mound and drain field system. The 1,250-gallon system was installed on what was at that time private property.
Last week, the town board approved a letter to the owner of the septic system, stating, in part, that the public must have access to Lake Helene and that access must remain open. The township will not allow “no trespassing signs” on the property, the letter stated. The letter further states that “the Baldwin Town Board would like to inform you that if the septic ever fails or needs repair, then the mound will need to be moved off township property and any related costs for the removal or repair will be paid for by the property owner.”
The affected residents asked questions of the township officials. Why were property owners not notified when the township took back the land? Has ownership of this property been clearly established?
Who is responsible for issuing permits for septic systems, and who makes sure they are not installed on public land? Not the county, according to Lynn Waytashek of Sherburne County planning and zoning. In an e-mail to the township, dated Sept. 4, 2012, Waytashek wrote that the property owner is responsible for knowing where the property lines are located and that structures are placed in the right spot.
Several Baldwin Township residents said they are doing their own research into the ownership of the lakeshore property, and those residents officials said they are poised to find answers to their questions.