Long battle ends; town gets sewer lagoon on farmer's land

Nov. 3, 2000
Harcourt, Ia. - David Castenson's fight to keep a city waste lagoon off his farm ended Tuesday in a Webster County courtroom.

By Mark Siebert

Nov 02, 2000 (The Des Moines Register)—Harcourt, Ia. - David Castenson's fight to keep a city waste lagoon off his farm ended Tuesday in a Webster County courtroom.

Castenson had tried seemingly every maneuver to keep the town of Harcourt from condemning his land. He planted fruit trees and constructed a privy, citing a territorial law that prevented Iowa cities from taking land occupied by orchards and outhouses.

The prolonged fight was quietly settled Tuesday.

Harcourt officials and the Castenson family expressed relief that the controversy is over. Both hope for healing, but clearly that healing will take time. By late Tuesday morning, Castenson was transferring his membership from a church in Harcourt to one in nearby Dayton.

"Being bitter, it will eat you alive," he said, sitting at his kitchen table. About 1,000 feet away in a soybean field, Harcourt's new wastewater treatment lagoon is nearing completion on 13 acres he once owned.

Castenson and his wife, Kristi, struggle to understand why so many Harcourt residents resented their family for wanting to keep the lagoon off their property.

"In some ways, it's going to be easier to live by that thing than by some of the people we've had to live with," he said. "I'll never understand how people got to a point where they were rude to us at council meetings and public hearings."

Castenson and about 30 others were in Fort Dodge on Tuesday for what was expected to be the latest in a string of legal proceedings. Castenson had asked the court to grant a permanent injunction barring the city from using his land for the lagoon.

After about 90 minutes of private discussions, Castenson lawyer Blake Parker announced: "Folks, we have resolved the case, so there's not going to be a trial."

The city agreed to pay Castenson $20,000, in addition to the $95,000 for the condemned land. Harcourt officials also agreed to drop an appeal of a $65,000 jury award for attorney fees.

In exchange, Castenson agreed to drop his request for an injunction and an appeal of an earlier Iowa Department of Natural Resources decision.

City officials said workers can start hooking residents to the new system by next week.

"It's a great relief," said Roy Tallman, mayor of this town of 300. "Hopefully, everyone can get on with their lives."

"And flush our toilets," added his wife, Suzzann.

She said one Harcourt family had been using the bathroom at the town's library. Other residents have toilet troubles when company visits or after heavy rains.

City officials have been working for years to build a public sanitary system to replace aging septic systems.

They zeroed in on Castenson's land west of town.

The land's low elevation was most suitable for a gravity-flow system. Putting the lagoon elsewhere would have required a pump station and more expense, the city argued.

But Castenson's farm has been in the family for more than 115 years.

He suggested less controversial locations. He offered to sell his truck to pick up some of the city's costs.

Harcourt officials insisted the Castenson land was the best choice.

So the legal fight began. "It will be four years in March," Castenson said.

The cost of the new system will be paid for largely with state and federal money. Despite Tuesday's settlement, Harcourt's mayor said the average resident will pay between $20 and $25 in sewer fees, about the same as before, for the new pipes and lagoon.

But, said Castenson, "We're the only ones who will have to live by it."

Reporter Mark Siebert can be reached at (515) 284-8127 or mailto:[email protected]

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