Small retaining walls known as headwalls, driveway markers and other decorative items encroaching on road right-of-ways have been illegal for years, but Baldwin Township hasn’t forced the issue with residents until now.
One hundred and sixty five letters were sent out to residents recently informing them of the encroachment and providing the state statute that makes them illegal and a description of how to fix the problem. The letters even included pictures of the offending items — anything from circles of stones around a mail box to light poles and large boulders.
Two years ago the Town Board made a push to get rid of the dangerous headwalls, but after sending out letters the push lost momentum.
Then last year the board made a commitment that “if we are going to start something we need to bring it to fruition,” said Board Member Jay Swanson.
Hearings where residents can voice concerns and ask questions about headwall removal will be held at Baldwin Town Hall June 8 and June 14 from 7-8 p.m.
If residents don’t remove items, the township will do the work and send a bill.
Many residents are not happy about this.
But the push to remove these fixtures isn’t a local initiative.
“This is a state law and that is throughout the entire state of MN –anywhere and everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you go,” said Swanson.
The average Baldwin Township road has a right-of-way easement of 33 feet measured from the center of the road. Nothing should be placed within the easement, which is designated to provide space for the road, water drainage and utilities.
Headwalls and other items residents place in easements not only cause problems when maintenance needs to be done on cable, gas and buried telephone lines, but can get in the way of snow plows and even leave residents liable for lawsuits.
Swanson gave an example of a child riding a bike down the road who crashes into a big boulder in the easement at the edge of a resident’s driveway and is injured.
“[The residents] have taken on all of the liability [for the accident] and I don’t think people know that,” he said.
Technically, if the township doesn’t push to get rid of these fixtures, it could be held liable, as well.
Swanson also pointed out that if people had checked where they were allowed to build prior to placing items in the easement they would have avoided this problem.
He urges people considering property improvements to contact Cathy at the Town Hall by calling 389-8931 or Sherburne County to get more information about where they can legally build.
As residents begin to remove the items, he also wants to remind anyone planning to dig to call Gopher State One Call at (800) 252-1166 or visit the service online. The free service not only provides information about where to dig but will prevent residents from being liable for digging up buried lines should it occur by accident.
Some residents have headwalls that they can remove themselves with nothing more than a wheelbarrow, but others may need to hire heavy equipment. If multiple residents need to hire help to remove items in the right-of-way, perhaps they can make it a joint effort, sharing the fees and equipment. If you’re interested, leave a comment and get connected with others.
What do you think about headwalls?