Use of eminent domain a possibility on Route 50 sewer project

Click here for the original story in the Athens Messenger

By Steve Robb 

Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 23 newspaper on Page A1.


A resolution approved Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners is a first step for use of eminent domain on the Route 50 sewer project, but it’s uncertain if the court process will be needed.

The estimated $28.8 million sanitary sewer project is expected to go out to bid this spring, and through legal counsel the commissioners have been working to acquire easements for the project and acquire land for sewage lift stations. The project is primarily intended to provide sanitary sewer service to housing subdivisions west of Athens along Route 50, with sewage treatment to be provided by the city.

On Tuesday, the commissioners approved a resolution that declares the project necessary for public health and welfare and says eminent domain could be needed to acquire land and easements.

“I guess there’s no other way to do it without eminent domain?” asked Commissioner Chris Chmiel.

“That’s only if we need to,” Commissioner Lenny Eliason responded. “We’re not eminent domaining anybody (now), we’re still negotiating.”

Eliason said the county wants to have 80 percent of the easements acquired before the project is put out to bid, and he estimated 70 percent have been donated. All of the easements need to be in place before construction can begin, so at that point eminent domain cases would be filed in Athens County Common Pleas Court for any easements (and property for lift stations) not already obtained, according to Eliason.

Filing eminent domain cases would require the county to post funds with the court based on the estimated value of the property or easement, with the court process then determining the appropriate compensation.

“We’d rather negotiate this away, but I respect people’s right to tell us we’re wrong (on the value),” Eliason said.

Attorney Frank Lavelle, who is handling the easement and property acquisitions for the county, said so far no offers have been made for purchase of the lift station properties, but discussions are taking place with property owners.

Three or four of the lift stations would not be located on private property, Lavelle said.

Lift stations are used to pump sewage, and The Messenger was told in August that the plans at that time required 17 lift stations.

The sewer project is to be funded with a combination of grant and loan money.