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WSB promotes Ben Barker to director of Right of Way

Ben Barker has been promoted to WSB’s Director of Right of Way. Barker has been with WSB for over seven years as a Right of Way Specialist. He has over 15 years of experience in real estate and 10 years in acquisitions and relocations. He has extensive experience in land rights for government entities, renewable energy companies and utility companies. He is an active member of the International Right of Way Association and serves on the Executive Board for Chapter 20.

Since joining WSB in 2014, Barker has managed a variety of complex projects, including Rice Street, I-694, Minnesota Southwest Light Rail Transit, and White Bear Ave Reconstruction. He has proven himself as an effective negotiator, strong leader, and consistently helps clients, design staff, and landowners to reach fair settlements for all parties.

In his role as Director of Right of Way, Barker will lead the Minneapolis Right of Way team and continue oversight of WSB’s Right of Way services across the United States. His focus will remain on supporting WSB’s Right of Way clients across the firm’s government, commercial and energy markets.

WSB’s Right of Way team works with closely with clients in the government, commercial and energy markets throughout the United States. The staff of real estate specialists and surveyors specialize in right-of-way issues and services including project scoping, cost estimates, relocation, eminent domain, appraisals and acquisitions.

Candidate Conservation Agreement: Right of way preservation creates viable habitat for butterflies

By Alison Harwood, Director of Natural Resources, WSB

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is investigating threats to the monarch butterfly. The monarch is being considered to join the list of species registered under the Endangered Species Act. The listing decision is expected to occur in December. If listed, projects and activities that involve impacts to the monarch or their habitat could face delays as a result of required USFWS consultation. To avoid potential delays, transportation and energy groups are enrolling in the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) program. The CCAA allows transportation and energy groups nationwide to gain protections for certain covered activities by implementing conservation measures to sustain a viable habitat for monarchs, within the right of way on energy and transportation lands. Enrolling in the program can help these groups avoid costly project delays.

Protecting our environment allows us to work with nature, not against it.

The monarch butterfly is a beautiful sight, with its brilliant red-orange wings, black veined exterior and white spotting. However, this attractive pollinator is not something to take for granted. The monarch is a vital species in our planet’s ecosystem and contributes to the environment through pollination and as an important food source for birds, small animals and other insects.

Preserving and monitoring butterfly habitat within right of way segments is a top priority for the CCAA and affiliated members. In Minnesota, any stretch of right of way along the road is commonly identified as habitat; except for urban areas that contain no vegetation. This habitat supports milkweed and a variety of blooming nectar plants that monarchs regularly frequent. Before forming a chrysalis, the monarch caterpillar relies on milkweed as its primary food source. Without it, the larva cannot develop into a butterfly.

Monarch habitats are threatened by activities such as mowing, spraying, or grading. If listed and without proper permitting, any damage to monarch habitat as a result of these activities is in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act. Entities in violation of the Endangered Species Act may be fined and unable to continue their project work until proper permitting has been processed and approved.

Morrison County puts conservation measures in place.

WSB recognizes the importance of maintaining, improving and creating a viable habitat. Our Natural Resources team recently partnered with the Morrison County Highway Department to help them determine which segments of right of way require conservation measures. As part of the conservation study, our environmental scientists will calculate and analyze the total acreage of right of way and provide recommendations on conservation best practices (as indicated per the CCAA) such as guidelines for mowing. The CCAA requires each County transportation group to implement conservation measures on five percent of the total right of way area. An approved list of management practices is covered in the agreement for communities to review.

The CCAA program is open for enrollment until the effective listing date (anticipated as December 2021 or January 2022). Members can apply for the program and receive coverage before the ruling is made. Interested entities can only join the CCAA prior to the listing date.

By maintaining, improving and creating a safe habitat, monarchs will have the environment they need to survive and thrive for generations to come.

To learn more about the CCAA and how to enroll, visit their website.

10 benefits of having an experienced right of way professional on your project

By Penny Rolf, Director of Right of Way, WSB

​Enlisting the help of a licensed right of way professional to manage planning, design and land acquisition processes can keep project development moving forward. Right of way experts bring the knowledge and understanding to ensure each phase of development remains in compliance with federal and state regulations. Reviewing current regulations and keeping clients informed can prevent costly schedule delays and contractual or legal issues. Identifying opportunities for grant funding, meeting with property owners to review title information and streamlined data management are ways right of way staff can support project deliverables. Through building strong partnerships and communicating important updates throughout development, they ensure a compliant, equitable approach to navigate the complexities of any right of way project.

Here are ten reasons why you should have an experienced right of way professional on your team.

  1. Team player from start to finish
  2. Thorough understanding of federal and state-level regulations for land acquisition and project funding
  3. Expertise of the right of way industry, planning, design and property owner management
  4. Experience in preparing minimum damage acquisition reports (MDA) – an alternative to the standard appraisal process
  5. Preparation of field title reports to verify ownership interests and identify design issues and owner concerns related to the impacts on the property: small design changes during this time can alleviate several owner issues or concerns
  6. Leveraging technology via Datafi software to manage data in the office and field
  7. Providing relocation services for residential and non-residential owners and tenants
  8. Acquiring right of way for:
    • Road and trail projects for cities, counties and Departments of Transportation
    • Utility easements for high voltage electric transmission lines, pipeline, sanitary sewer, and drainage
    • Renewable energy easements for solar gardens and wind farms
  9. Obtaining crossing permits for county and state roadways, trails, utility projects and railroads
  10. Communication experts who will facilitate building strong partnerships with property owners to ensure an equitable process while keeping the project on time and on budget

Penny has over 29 years of real estate experience and 21 years providing project management, relocation services and right of way acquisition for MnDOT, WisDOT and many city and county clients in Minnesota and North Dakota. Penny values cultivating trust and understanding with property owners to ensure settlement negotiations are legally compliant and equitable for all parties involved. She is a licensed broker in Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota. Penny is a certified IRWA CLIMB instructor for both acquisition and relocation courses. 

[email protected] / 763.231.4868

Over, Under, Through, Across: A Right of Way Rule of Thumb

Faye Gillespie, Right-of-Way Specialist, WSB

Ensuring we have the necessary land rights is the first step that we take on all public and private projects. A simple way to determine if you need to consult the Right of Way Department for a new project is to ask the following question:

Does the project or the people who will be working on it have to go over, under, through, or across any land that is not currently owned by your client either temporarily or permanently?

Over: The Right of Way Department often must acquire land for overhead easements and projects that include things like telephone lines, electrical transmission or distribution lines, and other utilities. You may not install anything overhead that crosses private property without an easement providing the right to do so.

Under: Sewer lines, along with various other utilities, are often installed under someone’s land. Whether you need to dig up or directionally bore under private property, installing something under the land requires that rights must be acquired from the property owner.

Through: Any project requiring any access to travel through – or work in/on – any private property requires land rights.

Across: Anything installed across private property, either permanently or temporarily, also requires the right of way process be followed. Sidewalks, trails, roads, and light rail are all great examples of projects that may go across private property.

The Right of Way Department needs to be involved as early as possible on any project that must go over, under, through, or across private land. We follow all federal and state processes when acquiring land for projects. This process can be complicated and take time, but it is critical that we abide by and comply with the law.

Additionally, if federal funding is involved with any aspect of the project, we must act in accordance with the Uniform Act when purchasing land rights from property owners. Not following that process could risk federal funding being rescinded.

Stepping onto private property at any time without the appropriate rights to do so – even temporarily – leaves clients open to both legal and civil consequences.

We provide our clients with the technical excellence and quality projects they deserve. In the Right of Way Department, we are also indebted to our landowners. We must treat landowners fairly and lawfully, and always provide them with just compensation for the land rights our clients need. To maintain this standard of excellence, we always apply the Over, Under, Through, Across rule to all projects from the very beginning.