A new controversy has arisen involving land in Hill County northwest of Havre sold to the state in an already controversial deal.
Ross Ritter of Judith Basin County, formerly of Rudyard, has filed a lawsuit against David and Julie Aageson, Verges and Noreen Aageson, and Aageson Grain and Cattle alleging the defendants have failed to return $200,000 invested in a proposed sale of their joint properties.
The Aagesons had not returned calls asking for comment to the Havre Daily News by printing deadline this morning.
Aagesons sold their property, 4,500 acres, to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in 2012, amid a flurry of opposition. Opponents said the $5.8 million the state paid was too much for north-central Montana farmland.
The Aagesons responded that the property, which includes miles of braided Milk River and animal habitat as well as archaeological and paleontological opportunities, was well-worth the price.
Aagesons sold 1,500 acres to DNRC, which it would manage for the state school trust fund and the Aagesons then would lease, and FWP would manage its 3,000 acres as a wildlife refuge.
FWP announced last August that it had developed an interim management plan for that 3,000 acres and 6,000 acres of adjacent school trust land, which it named the Lost River Wildlife Area, and was working on a permanent management plan.
Ritter says in his lawsuit that he and his former wife, Rhonda, had signed a joint venture agreement in 2004 with the Aagesons and paid them $200,000 to help fund the venture, which proposed selling the property to a university — the group had been in contact with the University of Notre Dame in Indiana about selling the land.
In the agreement, attached to the lawsuit, Ritters were to receive 6.8 percent of the gross sales price of the property. In the event of a loss by the venture, Ritters’ loss was limited to the $200,000 invested, the agreement says.
The lawsuit says the deal with Notre Dame fell through, and nothing further had occurred as far as selling the properties jointly as set in the agreement.
Along with the deal with FWP and DNRC, the Aagesons had negotiated to sell archaeological and paleontological rights on their property to the University of Montana for $2 million, but that deal fell through.
The lawsuit says that Ross Ritter’s property has not been sold, and that the Aagesons have not agreed to end the 2004 agreement, and “despite repeated demands” will not return the $200,000.
The lawsuit further says Aagesons effectively ended the agreement when they sold their property to the state without selling the Ritter property, which breached the joint venture.
The lawsuit asks the court to award Ritter the $200,000 and “any other relief the court deems just and equitable.”