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Birchmont Drive case still up in the air

BEMIDJI – The Birchmont Drive case remains in limbo.

But plenty has happened behind the scenes in the last few months.

The case, involving dozens of property owners in Northern Township and a handful in the city of Bemidji, centers around assessments for a water and sewer utility extension project that was completed in 2008.

The appellants argue the proposed assessments, totaling about $1.4 million, don’t reflect whatever benefit the properties receive.

Most recently, Bloomington, Minn.-based attorney Jason Kuboushek replaced city attorney Al Felix as the city’s representation in the case in late January. Kuboushek was already representing Northern Township prior to the change.

Felix said because of some of the claims raised in the appeal, the League of Minnesota Cities suggested Kuboushek defend the city. The suggestion was triggered by the city’s insurance policy with the league, which occasionally appoints attorneys for municipalities that specialize in certain issues, Felix said.

Felix said because the claims made against the city and the township are very similar, having Kuboushek represent the city will provide some efficiency.

“Right now the case is in the midst of discovery,” Kuboushek wrote in an email to the Pioneer. “No future court dates have been set.”

Since the assessment appeals were filed in court in October, all three Beltrami County District Court judges have recused themselves from the case. Judge Shari Schlucter is one of the appellants, which would have been an obvious conflict of interest had she heard the case.

Judges Paul Benshoof and John Melbye recused as well.

Clay County District Judge Steven Cahill was appointed to the case by the state Supreme Court.

This is the third time the issue has reached the courts. In 2009, a judge ordered Northern Township to reassess the properties. The township vacated those new assessments due to a miscalculation in mid-2012 after a second appeal from the property owners.

The city of Bemidji became involved this time around after a handful of the properties were annexed into the city.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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