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Hutterite colony caught in wetlands dispute

WILLOW LAKE (AP) — A federal wildlife agency is suing a Hutterite colony in Willow Lake, alleging that it hasn't abided by the terms of a 36-year-old easement that requires the landowners to leave the property's wetlands intact.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked a judge to order the Mayfield Hutterite Colony to restore the wetlands on their property and respect the easement that was already on to the property when the colony purchased it in 2005, according to the Argus Leader.

"The Colony has violated and continues to willfully violate the easement, by refusing to remove the drain tile and restore the wetlands," the complaint says.

The colony put drain tiles along three of the five protected wetland areas of their property several years ago, but the colony's management said they don't consider those areas wetlands.

Joe Waldner, the colony boss, said the agency's position is unworkable. He said the colony offered to transfer the easements to other areas of the property that are wetlands, but "they refuse to work with us."

"I don't want a lawsuit, but I'll go to court if I need to," Waldner said. "We've got better wetlands in the same field."

In 1978, U.S. Fish and Wildlife paid the property owners $6,000 for the easement, and it was attached to the title with the Register of Deeds in 1979. The owners sold the land to the colony in 2005, with the easement attached.

The Wildlife Service sent the colony a burn letter that year, reminding them that burning was not allowed on the easement.

After the colony put in the drain tiles, the lawsuit alleges, the colony's representatives claimed to be unaware of the easement, and have since refused to comply with the Wildlife Service's order to remove them.

The colony has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.