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MRC board denies liability in Dakota Southern, landowner dispute

CHAMBERLAIN -- A local railroad board has denied liability for failing to expedite a resolution on a dispute with a Kimball couple. The Mitchell to Rapid City Regional Rail Board, which oversees the operations of Dakota Southern Railroad on the l...

CHAMBERLAIN - A local railroad board has denied liability for failing to expedite a resolution on a dispute with a Kimball couple.

The Mitchell to Rapid City Regional Rail Board, which oversees the operations of Dakota Southern Railroad on the line, was named in a lawsuit stemming from a fire on Jan. 27, 2015, that sparked alongside the railroad and destroyed more than 100 trees owned by Larry and Shelly Overweg.

Since the fire, the Overwegs and Dakota Southern Railroad have not reached an agreement on reimbursement, resulting in a lawsuit against the railroad. The MRC board was named in a separate lawsuit because representatives of the Overwegs have allegedly approached the MRC board multiple times in the past three years about the issue and the board did not step in, according to court documents.

In recently filed court documents, the MRC board, as a public entity, denied liability for the disagreement and its lack of a resolution. The MRC board's attorney, Ken Cotton, said multiple times during public meetings he doesn't understand how the board could be held responsible for a dispute between two separate parties, which was reiterated in court documents.

Court documents also outline South Dakota law that requires a person or organization to give written notice of property damage to a public board within 180 days, which the MRC board alleges didn't happen, making it not liable.

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" ... Plaintiffs at any time could have instituted the necessary procedures with which to resolve this matter through the court system, as they are now doing at this time," court documents state.

The Overwegs claim, however, the MRC board is aware Dakota Southern was not fulfilling the duties of a contract with MRC and the "MRC has failed to protect the public and the Plaintiffs from the actions of the Defendants."

The MRC board goes on to request that if a jury determines the MRC owes money to the Overwegs for punitive damages, that the board be awarded the same amount of money from Dakota Southern.

The Overwegs have asked the court for $80,000 in damages for the trees and hay destroyed in the fire, and a minimum of $225,000 for the delay of a resolution.

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