Western Minnesota property dispute puts Chippewa County park plans on hold

·3 min read

Jul. 25—MONTEVIDEO

— A civil lawsuit has put plans on hold by Chippewa County to develop a county park near the Minnesota River, south of Montevideo.

The lawsuit was filed this month by Robert W. Starbeck. It claims adverse possession on a property the county is seeking to purchase for the park.

The county is putting its plans to purchase the property on hold until the civil lawsuit is resolved, according to David Lieser, chair of the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners reviewed the lawsuit during a closed session on July 19.

The county is also notifying the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of its need to put the purchase on hold. Last fall, it was awarded a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources grant of roughly $170,000 to acquire property for the park. The county is looking to acquire state-owned land as well as the 40-acre property that is the subject of the lawsuit for the park.

The county has a purchase agreement with the Dennis and Mary Gibson and Keith and Vicki Poier families to purchase the 40-acre parcel.

In the lawsuit, Starbeck says that he has been maintaining a road, camping area and farm field for more than 15 years and has a claim to the land title.

Claims made under adverse possession laws are sometimes called squatters' rights. Among other requirements under Minnesota law, the claimant must have adversely possessed the land for at least 15 years.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants are the record owners of an undivided half interest in the property. Dennis Gibson and Keith Poier acquired their interest in the property in March 1974 by warrant deed from Christina H. Will. Arthur and Phyllis Starbeck acquired their interest from Christina H. Will in January 1974.

Arthur and Phyllis Starbeck farmed their property every year after the acquisition, including a portion of their field that encroached upon the Gibson/Poier property. In September 2000, after the death of Phyllis Starbeck, Arthur Starbeck transferred the Starbeck property into the Arthur C. Starbeck Trust.

Arthur and Robert Starbeck continued to farm the encroached property. Robert Starbeck continued to do so after Arthur Starbeck's death on Jan. 26, 2021.

Every year since 2000, Robert Starbeck has maintained a recreational campground and roadway he constructed on the Gibson/Poier property, the lawsuit states. He has mowed and maintained the campground, graded the roadways, cleared snow, constructed a stone fire pit, and installed and emptied garbage containers, the lawsuit claims.

"The plaintiff has used the property year-round for his recreational and hunting purposes," states the lawsuit. It also says that he has controlled access to the site and constructed a chain barrier and posted a "no trespassing" sign there.

The lawsuit asks the court to either declare that Starbeck is the owner of the encroaching farm and campground property or that he holds a prescriptive easement over the campground property.

The lawsuit is a second complication for the county in its efforts to develop the park. Earlier this summer, the owners of land adjacent to that being sought for the park raised concerns to the Board of Commissioners.

Tamara Fender of Madison, South Dakota, told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners that she and her husband, Hodge, were unaware of plans by the county to develop the park when they purchased land that adjoins the land the county intends to develop. Fender told the commissioners that she and her husband believe the park and an access road the county wants to develop for the park will adversely affect the value and their use of the land.