City stands firm on RTC with legal challenge possiblePublished 10:58am Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Facing a potential roadblock to Kirkbride demolition from the State Historic Preservation Office, the Fergus Falls City Council was urged Monday by Regional Treatment Center advisor Kent Mattson to begin taking steps to get any possible lawsuit out of the way as soon as possible.
At issue is some correspondence between SHPO and the city and between SHPO and the Minnesota Department of Administration, the state department that set up the city’s RTC demolition/infrastructure agreement.
“The request right now to the city is to basically determine whether or not a conditional (environmental assessment worksheet) is required,” Mattson said.
An EAW on what the effects of RTC demolition would be was conducted prior to the city taking over the property in 2007, but Mattson said SHPO wants to know if the city needs to conduct an updated one.
“They have given their impression that perhaps one may be required,” said Mattson.
However, Mattson said he has talked to the Department of Administration about doing an EAW, and as he understands it, a new one is not needed unless the circumstances surrounding the project have changed. Though more tax credits are now available to help fund Kirkbride preservation, the possible end goal of the grants – demolition – has not changed since the EAW was done.
To the Department of Administration, SHPO has requested evidence that the department and SHPO had a written agreement that demolition was a suitable course of action for the Kirkbride building. The department believes that such an agreement did take place through discussions and correspondence between it and SHPO before much of SHPO’s current administration arrived, but Mattson said SHPO could be looking for an official contract – one that may or may not exist.
Mattson said the position he recommends the city take is that the state gave Fergus Falls assurances in when it transferred ownership of the RTC that the paperwork was in order and the grant could be used for demolition, and that a change in those circumstances now would be unfair to the city and its taxpayers.
“We will stick with the promises that were made to us when we took the property back in 2007,” said Mattson.
Though the council took no action, Mattson said the best option now is for staff to begin trying to resolve the situation with SHPO, and to request state reimbursement for money the city has already paid on the RTC project as soon as possible. That way, if SHPO or someone else files an injunction against the city receiving state funding for the project, that situation can be dealt with in court as soon as possible.
“If we’re going to get hung up in a lawsuit by SHPO or some other state agency that’s trying to challenge the grant dollars we have available, we’d rather get that on the table now because the clock is ticking, and it’s taking attention away from trying to do good on the project,” Mattson said.
Mattson will keep the city informed on the communication process with SHPO. The council expects to hear information about possible demolition options for the building at its Aug. 6 meeting.