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Judge favors landowner in Helga Township dispute

HELGA TOWNSHIP – The temporary restraining order prohibiting Doug Crosby from excavating his fields has been dissolved, per a judge’s order.

Hubbard County District Judge Robert Tiffany issued an order Friday denying a temporary injunction request from Helga Township and dissolving the previously issued temporary restraining order that stopped Crosby and Reierson Construction of Bemidji from excavating rock from Crosby’s land in preparation of grazing fields.

“I guess I’m happy,” Crosby said Tuesday afternoon. “But it should have never happened.”

Neither Helga Town Board Chairman Mike Smith nor the township’s attorney in the matter, Robert Alsop, could immediately be reached for comment.

On July 6, Helga Township obtained a temporary restraining order because officials claimed Crosby first needed to obtain a permit for the excavation work. Crosby disagreed, saying that the primary use of his land was agriculture, not excavation.

Crosby fought the temporary restraining order in court. A motion hearing was held Aug. 17, at which time Tiffany took the matter under advisement.

“The Court finds the harm to be suffered by the township if temporary injunctive relief is denied is less than the harm to be suffered on Crosby if the injunction were issued pending a trial on the merits,” Tiffany wrote in his order released Friday.

Tiffany acknowledged in his order that Crosby contends he is at risk of losing a federal contract for the construction of intensive pasture paddocks for grazing cattle.

“Crosby will be restrained from conducting a significant part of the pasture reclamation project if the requested temporary injunction is granted by the Court,” Tiffany wrote. “The possible harm to the township is significantly less if the temporary injunctive relief is granted.”

Crosby had been accepted into the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program. He plans to have eight rotating grazing pastures with an underground watering system.

Now, the future of his participation in EQIP is in limbo, Crosby said. The deadline for the program is Oct. 1 and, even with Tiffany’s order allowing work to proceed, Crosby is not sure if he can get it all done in time.

“It’s going to be really pushing it,” he said when asked if he could meet the Oct. 1 deadline. “I don’t know if we can get it done or not.”

About two of the 20 acres had been cleared by the time the restraining order was put in place, he said.

Crosby said he also did not know if he could reapply for EQIP next year, noting that he had to wait two years for this current attempt.

He said he contacted Reierson Construction Tuesday, asking that work begin again at his site. He was unsure how long it would take for work to again get underway.

Crosby said he would initiate a countersuit in October to try to recover the damages he believes were caused to him by the actions of the Helga Town Board.

Tiffany, in his order, suggested that it would be a difficult case for Helga Township to win if a trial on the merits were held.

“While Helga Township recognizes agricultural practices and the need to allow agricultural uses, it also has ordained that excavation practices should be prohibited in agricultural areas,” Tiffany wrote. “The ordinance is silent on any threshold quantity for triggering the restrictions. Plaintiff may have serious obstacles to overcome before establishing the right to the declaratory relief sought in its Complaint.”