It is human nature for a property owner to compare what they get paid for a road-project easement compared to a neighbor, says Mille Lacs County Public Works Director Bruce Cochran.
So going out and appraising 46 separate parcels in order to obtain easements for widening a road is a delicate matter, considering that each property is unique, Cochran said last week when his department was in the midst of easement purchasing.
The 46 parcels are what the county needs for easements for next year’s widening of an approximately four-mile stretch of Mille Lacs County Road 4. The project’s southern point is a half mile south of County Road 13 (55th Street) and the northern end is County Road 12 (90th Street).
These county roads that were built in the 1950s and ‘60s have not been up to today’s safety standards, and that is why the road project is being done, Cochran said. Mille Lacs County did the same kind of work on a section of County 1 in rural Princeton a couple years ago.
While the project’s excavation and asphalt work is what often makes for news photos, an equally as important part of the project is the preparation, and that includes securing the needed easements. It involves hiring an appraiser and when the appraiser’s work is done, the county is required to have a second appraiser review the first appraiser’s work. Once the appraisals are accepted, public works make offers the landowners based on the appraisals.
The appraised per-acre price for the easements in the county road 4 project range from a low of $1,950 to a high of $8,000. The total amount offered is calculated by multiplying the price per acre times the amount of acreage needed, which can range from a small fraction of an acre to multiple acres, plus possibly add in other factors to reach a grand total.
The total of all the appraisals for the 46 properties is $155,370.
The appraiser must document the findings and the county must send the appraisal amounts to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Sml Appraisals, Inc., of Rice, Minn., is the appraiser for the project. Among the factors that the appraiser looks at in determining an appraisal include looking a parcel’s improvements such as fencing, landscaping and types of trees, plus look at the easement’s proximity to a dwelling, according to Cochran.
It makes a difference if the trees have been planted as part of landscaping, or if they are just “uncontrolled,” Cochran said. The appraisers also look at comparable land sales in their arriving at the appraisals, which have no correlation to the county assessed values, Cochran continued. Also, the appraisals have to reference those comparable sales.
Cochran, while talking about the different parcels, noted that a number of trees will have to be removed from the Oeffling parcel in order to improve visibility for the road. The parcel is at the intersection of county roads 4 and 13. Encroachment damage is one of the factors in the Oeffling appraisal.
Another example of a unique parcel is that of E. Liepitz & C Meinz. In that case an amount is also included for encroachment damage. Cochran explained that on that parcel, the house is so close to the planned roadwork because the driveway is where the county is considering putting in a turn lane.
One of the tools the county uses in looking at the parcels is aerial photos and Cochran has large copies of these color photos arranged on a wall to give a bird’s eye view of them all. There are 36 sets of property owners involved in the 46 parcels that the county wants for the county road 4 easements, and only a few easement agreements were signed as of last week, according to Cochran.
Not every offer is always accepted in road projects and Cochran said that the county has the power of eminent domain to force the property owner to sign an easement agreement for a certain price. Cochran acknowledged that eminent domain is not a popular thing with some.
A property owner can always contest an offer but that would entail hiring legal help and the amount gained through the easement sale can be partially reduced by the legal fees, Cochran said.
Cochran indicated that he just hopes the work of gaining the easements can go as smoothly as possible, with the property owners understanding that it is difficult to compare the appraisals when each parcel has its unique situation.