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Construction firm sues Mahnomen County, alleging illegal roadblock

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — A lawsuit involving a Minnesota engineer and a construction company has now expanded to include an entire county.

The company, Central Specialities Inc. of Alexandria, is suing Mahnomen County and its highway engineer, Jonathan Large, for unspecified damages incurred when Large allegedly detained trucks owned by the company during summer 2017.

The suit claims that Large "intentionally and maliciously abused his governmental authority."

Central Specialties had a contract with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in July 2017 to do road work on Minnesota Highway 59, according to an amended complaint filed May 29 in federal court.

The company notified Large of its intent to use a reconstructed portion of Mahnomen County Highway 10, south of Highway 5, for transportation and did so even though the section was open to the public, in order to avoid potential conflicts with ongoing construction work, court documents said. The section was open to trucks with an axle weight of up to 5 tons.

Court documents allege that Large told Central Specialties not to use the road when Knife River Corporation was doing construction work.

On July 14, 2017, Central Specialties notified Large it would be using the route July 17, and Large responded by saying the company shouldn't because Knife River would be doing shoulder work that day, court documents stated.

The afternoon of July 17, Central Specialties claims it discovered no construction was being done by Knife River and started using the section of Mahnomen County Highway 10. Central Specialties used the route again on July 18 and the same day, Large got approval from Mahnomen County leaders to repost weight limits — from a 5-ton axle weight limit to a 5-ton total weight limit — on roads associated with the Highway 59 project, court documents said.

Central Specialties alleges Large and Mahnomen County employees began changing weight signs on Highway 10, south of Highway 5, under his direction.

On July 18, Large allegedly used a county vehicle to create a roadblock on Highway 10 and stopped Central Specialties' trucks, the complaint said. The company claims its trucks were stopped for more than three hours, and while they were detained, Large let other trucks pass without being stopped, court documents stated.

The company argues that Large doesn't have the authority to conduct traffic stops. It claims the traffic stop caused project delays and extra costs. The company's suit asserts that Mahnomen County and Large are liable for damages, including fuel and employee wage costs.

Large and Mahnomen County filed a response to the complaint June 21, denying that Central Specialities' trucks were illegally detained. The response requests that the "groundless" complaint be dismissed.

A hearing to address the defense's motion to dismiss the suit is set for Sept. 27 in Minneapolis.