Border battle prompts lawsuit: CHS, Grand Forks landowner in dispute over property
GRAND FORKS -- Expansion of a CHS Inc. facility in Grand Forks County is causing a border dispute between a neighboring property owner and the company.
The controversy centers on a piece of land on the southeast corner of the Larimore Municipal Airport and the use of a roadway running through the property. That parcel of land is owned by Roland Riemers and is adjacent to land owned by CHS, a large agriculture company that’s expanding a fertilizer facility.
CHS alleges that over the past few months Riemers, a former Libertarian candidate for governor of North Dakota, has blocked the roadway accessing their land and destroyed a wastewater retention pond. A Grand Forks County judge granted CHS’ request for a temporary restraining order against Riemers last month, barring him from entering its property and from blocking the road.
CHS is seeking to have a roadway that employees use to access its facility declared public, damages for the wastewater pond and its costs of the suit.
CHS began construction in the fall, Riemers said, bringing increased traffic across his property. In an affidavit filed in Grand Forks County District Court, Riemers said he has allowed CHS to use a road that cuts through his property in an effort to be a “friendly neighbor.”
“I also believe their plant expansion is good for the community …” Riemers wrote.
Riemers said he stores two planes in a hangar on his property, which he purchased about four years ago.
“It’s been a nice little place,” Riemers said. “It’s kind of my man cave to get away from things in Grand Forks.”
But, he added, CHS tore out another entrance into his property, his septic system and telephone line during construction.
The septic system, however, was under CHS land, according to the complaint filed by the company’s attorney, Jon Brakke of Vogel Law Firm in Fargo. Part of the entryway was also on CHS property, but Riemers said he and previous property owners have used it to get to the hangar.
Brakke declined to discuss the case on the record.
In early November, Riemers “destroyed” a wastewater retention pond on CHS land that it uses to hold water used for cleaning trucks. He has also dismantled and damaged a construction fence and blocked a drainage culvert, according to the affidavit of Laurence Lenertz, manager of mergers and acquisitions for CHS.
Riemers wrote in his affidavit that the pond was placed on the Barrett Avenue public right of way, and it was blocking his entryway. He denied removing CHS security fences.
The roadway through Riemers’ property has been used to access a fertilizer/agronomy business since about 1965, according to Lenertz. Owners and operators of that business have included Land O’ Lakes.
“The roadway has never been abandoned, and use of the roadway was at all times open and obvious in that the roadway linked the CHS property to Garette/Barrett Avenue,” Lenertz wrote. “The only other available routes (to the CHS property) are either dangerous or extremely inconvenient.”
At some point in mid-November, Riemers installed large posts on both sides of the roadway “that appear designed to either allow him to put a fence or gate across the roadway,” Lenertz wrote.
Riemers, a frequent initiator and subject of litigation, said he had used his car to block the roadway while he taxis his planes onto the adjacent runway. But CHS trucks went around his vehicle.
“At that time I decided to construct a barrier, on my property, on both sides of the driveway so that during those few hours of aircraft operation I could prevent dangerous vehicle traffic,” Riemers wrote. He later put “no trespassing” signs at each end of the roadway.
Establishing that the road has been used as a public thoroughfare consistently for at least 20 years may prove necessary in CHS’ quest to have it declared public. CHS claims that “use of the roadway was adverse to that of (Riemers) and (Riemers’) predecessors in that such use was without express permission or license …”
Adverse possession in property law means a “person can acquire ownership of someone else’s property by possessing it, using it and generally acting as its owner for an extended period of time,” according to Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University.
But Riemers said there are a number of ownership issues complicating whether the road is public or a private driveway.
“My general feeling is that it’s a driveway, but do I know for sure? No,” Riemers said. “But neither do they.”