Lawsuit inevitable in right-of-way conflict

It should come as no surprise that the debate over Ward Couty’s right of way “donation” rule is headed to the federal courts. There is simply no other remotely fair and even-kiltered institution to hear the dispute and have a resolution applied.

The Ward County Farm Bureau and Ward County Farmers Union announced Monday they will file a lawsuit in federal court this week to challenge the policy. Since 2015, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union members have protested the policy that requires landowners platting parcels of 40 acres or less to dedicate and donate right of way along county or township roads. The right of way is 75 feet on each side of a county road and 40 feet on each side of a township road. By law, a statutory easement of 33 feet exists from the center of township and county roads, but easements differ from dedications in that the landowner retains ownership. With the dedication, the landowner donates the 33 feet plus the additional footage and no longer owns the land.

“Donation” is an unusual choice of words, since it implies the inspiration and choice of a “donor.” Those most critical of the policy have called it a “land grab,” which is more accurate.

The situation could have been resolved had county officials listened to its own planning commission. Last year, the county planning commission proposed eliminating the right-of-way policy, but the county commission rejected the change.

While the county has rightly started the process of developing a real, comprehensive land use plan, the end result is a couple of years away and there is no way of knowing how it will address this issue. Meanwhile aggrieved rural county residents are unimpressed with the imperious inclinations of the county commission.

Given the inability to compromise or engage in fair discussions, it only makes sense that this issue head to court. Perhaps there, taxpayers will be heard.

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