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Jury awards SB business owners $830k in suit against MnDot

The Spur station at the corner of Highway 61 and Outer Drive in Silver Bay has been at the center of a legal dispute between its owners and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The owners were recently awarded compensation for MnDot road improvements that resulted in the business’ closure. Photo by Ken Vogel

Tammy Francois and Ken Vogel

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A jury has awarded the owners of a Silver Bay business $830,000 after they determined that the Minnesota Department of Transportation "took" their property at the intersection of Highway 61 and Outer Drive.

The owners, Donna Knaffla McCurdy, Bobbi Boman and Danny Knaffla, purchased the property in 2002 and operated a Spur gas station and convenience store on the busy North Shore corner. In 2006, however, the Minnesota Department of Transportation made changes to that intersection, creating a divider between the north- and south-bound lanes, closing off highway access to the business altogether and installing curbing at another access point that made it difficult for larger vehicles such as motorhomes or SUVs towing boats or campers to enter.

During the trial last summer, witnesses testified that the location was no longer suitable for a gas station because of the changes made to the highway. The owners testified that the loss of tourist traffic had decreased revenue, resulting in the business’ closure.

Sixth District Judge Michael Cuzzo agreed, ruling that “it is no longer financially feasible to operate a gas station” at the location and that because the owners would have to relocate their business, they were entitled to compensation that would allow them to purchase a comparable property. He then set a date for a jury to determine that amount. Late last month they did.

“The case was fairly decided by the jury,” Michael Orman, attorney for the Knaffla and Boman partnership said. Although the State’s witnesses testified that compensation in the amount of $440,000 was adequate, he added, “my clients asked for $830,000 and that’s what the jury awarded them.” The final amount will be less the current value of the property — $18,000. The jury seemed to have little trouble making its decision.

“The jury came back in an unbelievable short period of time, about 35 minutes,” Orman said, adding that the only thing they asked for was a pencil. He said that either side has the opportunity to appeal.

Repeated attempts to reach members of the Knaffla/Boman partnership and the Minnesota Department of Transportation for comment were unsuccessful.

Attorney Jim Manahan contributed to this story.