B'ville to use Eminent Domain: Bartlesville (OK) Examiner-Enterprise, 2/24/05

By Kelli Williams

The Bartlesville City Council voted earlier this week to exercise the city's powers of eminent domain to acquire land needed for the Silver Lake Road extension project.

Following an executive session on Tuesday, which was closed to the public in accordance with Oklahoma law, the council voted 5-0 to proceed with eminent domain to acquire property located near Adams Boulevard and Silver Lake Road.

Eminent domain allows government entities to acquire property needed to facilitate public projects for "fair market value" without the property owner's consent.

The property, which consists of about 37.5 acres, according to City Attorney Jerry Maddux, is owned by the Morrison Family Trust. The city has been in negotiations for the Morrison property as well as for 2.5 acres owned by a separate property owner for several months.

The council agreed last week to purchase the 2.5 acres from the Donaldson family for $10,900. However, a price for the Morrison property could not be negotiated, prompting the council to consider eminent domain, officials say.

When contacted Wednesday, representatives for the Morrison Family Trust said they were not aware that the city needed the entire 37.5 acre tract of land to extend Silver Lake Road.

"The only need that I was aware of was that they needed 2.5 acres for the road project," said Jim Swezey, a commercial real estate broker who represents the Morrison family in the matter. "And the Morrisons had not heard it either."

Swezey indicated the city may be pursuing the entire tract to use for the Pathfinder Recreation District, a multi-million dollar plan that officials say would significantly enhance Bartlesville's park system. The Pathfinder Recreational District is still in the planning stages and may be considered by voters this fall.

"They really just need 2.5 acres for the road project," Swezey said. "They want the whole thing for the park plan."

The Pathfinder Recreation District, if ultimately approved by voters, would include improvements to the M.J. Lee Lake area, located on Adams Road. In a separate project, the city has obtained a grant to convert the lake into a fishing lake.

City officials say that while only 1.76 acres is needed for the road itself, more land is needed to construct a borrow pit for the road extension project, from which dirt will be "borrowed" to elevate the extended road due to the property's floodplain location.

"If there were no Pathfinder Recreation District plan, we would still need the land for the borrow pit," Ward 2 representative Julie Daniels said Wednesday. "But because of the park plan and our hopes for its adoption by the voters, we're going to borrow the dirt in such a way that we're left with a usable piece of land in the floodplain."

Daniels said to accomplish this, the borrow pit must be dug shallowly, requiring more property than if it were dug more deeply.

Additionally, the borrow pit must be located within the floodplain, according to City Engineer Terry Lauritsen.

"The borrow pit is required by our floodplain laws," Lauritsen said. "You can't bring additional dirt into the floodplain."

He said that by using the south side of the site location, the city will reduce the cost of the project.

"With it (the borrow pit) close to the road (Adams Boulevard), the city will reduce hauling costs to the contractor and in turn reduce the construction cost of the road extension project," he said.

It is expected that Maddux will file the court procedure within the next week, and that the process will take about five weeks to complete.

The court will appoint three appraisers to appraise the property, after which the court will determine a "fair market value" price for the land, Maddux said. The city may then pay the cost and take possession of the property, although either side may then request a trial to determine a final amount, he said.

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