RICE LAKE A proposed pipeline that was to carry water from flooding Rice Lake to a point approximately 11 1/2 miles south of the lake has been stopped by a ruling from District Court Judge Richard L. Hagar. Hagar issued his written opinion late last Friday.
The Rice Lake Recreation Service District was seeking to exercise eminent domain on landowners along the proposed route of the pipeline. The landowners, known as the Friends of Douglas Aquifer, opposed the plan. Hagar agreed.
Citing various sections of the North Dakota Century Code, Hager expressly stated that RLRSD is a "municipality" and therefore "does not have condemnation authority for a flood control project, nor do they have the ability to extend any condemnation approximately 11.5 miles from the boundary of the recreation service district."
Waves pound against a rock-covered dike built around a home on the southern shore of Rice Lake. Note the black pipe that is used to pump seepage inside the dike back into the lake.
Rice Lake has been beleaguered by rising water to the extent where several homes and cabins have become flooded, some with several feet of water. Road raises and sewer and water protection measures have been implemented. So too has a pumping project which sends water from Rice Lake to a depression above the lake.
In the past the pumping project has lowered the level of water in Rice Lake for a period of time, but not permanently. The pumped water is believed to percolate into the Douglas aquifer and, eventually, back into Rice Lake.
Friday's ruling stated, "There is no doubt the RLRSD's plan is a flood control project." Powers of eminent domain or condemnation authority regarding flood control projects for a municipality are not mentioned in the Century Code. While municipalities and recreation districts have some authority regarding sewer, water and drainage projects, the Century Code clearly distinguishes the difference between those projects and flood control projects.
"It follows that if the legislature wanted to give municipalities, and recreation service districts condemnation powers for flood control projects they would have specifically laid out flood control projects as part of the statute," wrote Hagar. "RLRSD argues they have statutory eminent domain or condemnation authority to take property for a flood control project. This Court disagrees."
Hagar's ruling noted that according to the state's Century Code, the jurisdiction of the RLRSD extends only one-quarter mile from the edge of the Rice Lake District, not the 11.5 miles of the proposed pipeline route.
A group of landowners along the route of the proposed pipeline who comprise the Friends of Douglas Aquifer, had voiced opposition to the project. Spokesman Ron Kramer, of rural Douglas, said, "Let this be a clear message for those who try to take away landowner's property rights. Our land is more than just a financial asset to us. We will not be intimidated by the heavy-handed actions of the Rice Lake Recreation District. If they choose to continue down this ill-conceived path, we will continue to stand up and fight for our rights no matter the cost."
RLRSD had touted the pipeline as the solution to their flooding troubles. Friday's court ruling appears to have ended the project, at least in its present form, and leaves Rice Lake residents to cope with future water problems by other means. Phone calls to members of the Rice Lake Board of Directors were not returned to the Minot Daily News.