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Trumpeter lawsuit settles; Pierce Co. will pay $1.4 million

A 10-year-old land development dispute will end with a phone call Thursday.

Rather than take their chances with a jury, Pierce County Board members voted at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to pay $1.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Trumpeter Development LLC. The case involves an 817-acre development on a bluff bordering the Mississippi and Big River.

Trumpeter litigation has continued since February 1999 when Pierce County's Land Management Committee denied approval of 13 certified survey maps that would have allowed Trumpeter to develop the last 41 of 125 residential lots.

The committee had approved earlier maps, but balked at approving the final lots, insisting that Trumpeter set aside land for a public park rather than paying a per-lot park fee as the developer had in the past.

In a claim filed in 2002, Trumpeter asked for over $4 million in damages.

The settlement approved Wednesday includes $800,000 to compensate Trumpeter for losses and $600,000 for interest and attorney fees.

The good news -- if it can be called that -- for county taxpayers is that they've already paid the settlement amount. Of the $1.4 million, $626,000 will come from a "property acquisition" fund that was accumulated over time and the balance from the county's "contingency fund."

Following a closed meeting, their second in three days, board members met briefly in public session Wednesday to vote on a prepared motion outlining the terms of the settlement.

Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence, who said supervisors would have no other comment that night, explained that although there is no hearing scheduled, the presiding judge in the case said he would interrupt his calendar Thursday for a telephone conference to approve the settlement.

Lawrence said the parties' attorneys had reached "a settlement in principle" prior to Wednesday night's meeting.

The County Board vote to accept was 11-5 with supervisors Rich Purdy, Ben Plunkett, Nikki Shonoiki, John Kucinski and Bill Gilles voting no. Supervisor Jim Camery was not present for the vote.

A 12-person jury trial was scheduled to begin next Monday in Ellsworth before Trempealeau County Judge John Damon.

Only one of the people who were on the Land Management Committee in 1999 is still on the County Board. The administrator and attorney who advised the committee then are also no longer with the county.