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WATERLOO — Black Hawk County will pay homeowners after road crews cut down trees on their property.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to pay Grant and Annette Duncan $15,500 to avoid a court battle over the matter resulting from a paperwork error more than three decades old.

Workers cut down eight trees on the Duncan property in November while cleaning up ditches in Beaver Hills at the request of residents in the area.

County Engineer Cathy Nicholas said the county had paid the previous property owner $681 for a permanent easement when Skyline Drive was paved in 1987. So the county workers thought they were entitled to cut down the trees in the easement area.

But the county later learned it had failed to record the easement even though it had recorded similar easements on adjacent properties for the Skyline Drive project.

The Duncans believed they owned the trees because the easement wasn’t on their abstract.

“From our experience, this was just a fluke,” Nicholas said. “For whatever reason, that one small area wasn’t recorded.”

An attorney for the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, which insures the county, and Assistant County Attorney Pete Burk both recommended the supervisors accept the settlement and avoid what could be larger legal costs if it went to trial.

“From a legal analysis this is a smart move, something that I would recommend that you do,” Burk said.

Supervisors Tom Little, Linda Laylin and Chris Schwartz voted for the settlement.

“It was a human error that caused us to get to this point,” Little said. “It just irritates me that taxpayers’ money is going to pay for something that they owned … Common sense tells me that we have to move on from it.”

Supervisors Dan Trelka and Craig White voted against the settlement and to take their chances in court.

“Based on the information the employees had at hand, they did what they thought they needed to do,” Trelka said. “They did nothing unethical, nothing immoral. For that reason, I’m not supporting this resolution.”

Nicholas said the county ultimately found the purchase contract and properly recorded the document, which gives the county the right to maintain and clear land in the easement in the future.

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