HARCOURT, Iowa (AP) -- A farm couple didn't want 14 acres of their property to become a human-waste lagoon for the city of Harcourt. So they stopped the project, at least for now, by planting three trees and setting up a portable toilet.

``This has some real significant ramifications for cities and counties throughout the state,'' said Bob Goodwin, an Ames attorney representing Harcourt, population barely 300. ``If it's allowed, then every city and county is going to be blocked because people will put in outhouses and plant trees.``

But Dave and Kristi Castenson didn't want to give up 14 acres near their home for the plan to replace the city's decrepit sewer system. So they checked the law.

Then, in the middle of the targeted parcel, they planted a pear tree, a cherry tree and a crab-apple tree. Nearby they set up a portable toilet.

Under an Iowa territorial law that's still on the books, the city can't take over land occupied by outhouses or orchards.

The stalling tactic has kept the lagoon diggers at bay so far, but the city will challenge the move in court on April 7.

Meanwhile, the Castensons are postponing an important city project, said Mayor Roy Tallman. The septic system is in disrepair, and on days wet enough for standing water, some of the folks in the retirement home can't flush their toilets.

A lifelong Harcourt resident, Dave Castenson, 40, isn't trying to be a bad neighbor. ``I guess I don't owe anyone a human waste hole on my farm,'' Castenson said. ``If they don't understand that, that's too bad.''

The Castenson farm has been in the family for more than 115 years.

In 1997, town leaders started the process of replacing the city's aging septic system. They chose a gravity-flow system that would cost about $1 million, paid in large part by state and federal grants.

As gravity systems go, the lagoon needs to be lower than the town's toilets. Castenson's farm was the only suitable spot, Tallman contends. The Castensons disagree, saying the property might even be too high.

The city first eyed a piece of Castenson property about 900 feet away from a neighboring house. The law requires 1,000 feet.

The Department of Natural Resources said it would make an exception. An administrative law judge agreed. But the Environmental Protection Commission overturned the decision.

So the city moved the proposed lagoon farther from the neighbor, but about 1,000 feet from Castenson's house.

The city condemned the property and was about to take possession when Castenson, his wife and three kids planted the trees on a windy October day. It's hardly an orchard, Tallman said.

``Three little trees, and we haven't seen a leaf from one of them yet.''

The outhouse is now in pieces. After residents found out why Castenson put it there, someone tried to destroy it, he said.

``I suppose somebody's blaming me for that,'' the mayor said.

Castenson said he's tried everything to get the city off his back.

``I just don't want a lagoon there,'' he said. ``We would look at that every day for the rest of our lives. What kind of a life would that be?''


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