Landowners in Sargent County, North Dakota, won a significant victory for landowners across the State of North Dakota, as well as for good governance and government transparency. The Drain 11 Improvement Project has been the poster child for a lack of due process and government transparency with respect to North Dakota’s water laws and water board practices, once provoking a district court judge to refer to the actions of the water board’s attorneys and engineers as “morally deficient.” More importantly, the dispute between landowners and the government related to whether the government can fund multi-million dollar drainage projects through special tax assessments without giving the landowners, who supposedly are the sole beneficiaries of these projects, a chance to vote on whether they want the “benefits” of the project.
The ND Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that creative funding mechanisms designed to get around the requirement of landowner votes will be scrutinized and the limits on such creative funding mechanisms will be enforced. Landowners must have a vote on massive drainage projects they are being required to fund through special assessment taxes on their property. This problem has expanded well beyond the Drain 11 Improvement Project, and has been the subject of legislative efforts in more than one legislative session. Former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem also weighed in, supporting most of the landowners’ contentions, and his opinion responding to a request from former Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner was also cited to favorably by the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The Court’s decision marks a significant win for landowners, due process, and good governance. Braaten Law Firm would like to specifically thank Paul Mathews, Bob Banderet, Leon Mallberg, and numerous other landowners who have been involved in this seven-year effort to stand up for government transparency and good governance, and who have lit a beacon for other landowners who expect taxation to come with representation and due process.
Read the opinion at this link: 2023ND230