City of Bedford Seeks to Exercise Eminent Domain Powers: Lynchburg (VA) News and Advance, 4/17/06

By Janet Nguyen

The city of Bedford [VA] has asked Bedford County Circuit Court to use eminent domain to acquire about 44 acres of land that has been polluted by the city’s old, leaking landfill.

The property belongs to Mike Schrock of 1477 Draper Road. He filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the city in Bedford County Circuit Court in February.

Schrock’s lawsuit states that the city’s operation of the now-closed landfill has caused “harmful and toxic chemicals, hazardous substances and pollutants from and in the landfill … to negatively impact the air, the groundwater, and the surface water on, within, and under the Schrock Farm.”

The city believes it could better clean up groundwater contamination if it owned the property. The old landfill opened in the 1960s and closed in 1994.

The city has attempted to acquire the tract of land for several years, but Schrock has said it was not feasible to sell just a portion of his land. Instead, he offered to sell his entire 92-acre farm, but was unsatisfied with the $300,000 the city had offered.

“I did not feel that was a reasonable or realistic offer,” said Schrock Monday.

Instead, he agreed to allow the city to test the groundwater on his property as long as it shared the results with him.

Schrock said in July that the city had offered him $132,000 for the 44-acre tract.

“Our offer is fair based on the value of the property and the actions approved by DEQ (the Department of Environmental Quality) to address any alleged impact on Schrock’s property,” said John W. Daniel II of Troutman Sanders, which represents Bedford City, in a news release.

Former city manager Craig Meadows said in July that the city and county had discussed using eminent domain if Schrock refused to sell.

Under eminent domain, the government can seize private property for a public use.

“We prefer to reach a settlement with Mr. Schrock,” said Daniel in the press release.

“They can attempt it, but I don’t know how they can legally prevail in the courts,” said Schrock.

According to the release, Schrock has refused to respond to the city’s offer and has refused to make a counter offer.

“That is a totally untrue statement. I have made them several counter proposals and they know exactly what those counter proposals are. They chose not to accept them,” said Schrock on Monday.

“They’re trying to get the property because they don’t want to pay for it, so they’re using eminent domain as a backdoor approach,” said Schrock.

“We have tried to resolve this matter without delay and in an amicable way,” said Daniel.

“The city has a responsibility to the taxpayers to insist on a reasonable solution to this issue that is fair to the citizens.”

In March 2004, the city announced that six homes along Bell Town Road had wells contaminated by leakage from the landfill.

The contamination triggered the city to construct a waterline that would supply city water to the six homes. As part of the city’s corrective action plan, the waterline was completed in December.

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