Some Ustick Residents Face Eminent Domain: KBCI-TV2 (Boise ID), 6/20/06

By Thanh Tan

Before the Ada County [Idaho] Highway District can move on with its plans to widen Ustick Road, it must acquire 137 pieces of property.

ACHD spokesperson Christy Foltz-Ahlrichs says the district has about 58 more deals to settle before construction can begin in the winter.

On Wednesday at noon, ACHD commissioners will consider whether to exercise the government option of eminent domain on three different homes on that road.

Despite the agency's promises residents will be fairly compensated for giving up their land to benefit the general public, many people living in the Ustick neighborhood say the money doesn't make up the fact they're losing a right to property they've worked hard to earn.

Ben Hart's family bought this historic home off Ustick Road last year, and he says they knew nothing about the widening project — until it was too late.

Now, the government is considering whether to condemn a portion of their property lining Ustick in order to seize it.

"It's like you're being bullied. They get to do what they want to do. This is their offer, take it or leave it," he said, describing a previous experience with an ACHD negotiator.

For now, he says they're leaving the offer.

But not far down the road, Ustick resident Reba Bartrop says her family had to take the money.

"I feel we were kind of pressured into it. They knew about our (financial) situation and they took advantage of it," Bartrop told KBCI CBS 2 News. "But you know, you keep hearing that the government has the right to take whatever they want. It's just not right."

ACHD Spokesperson Christy Foltz-Ahlrichs says eminent domain is an emotional issue.

"We try to do as much as we can to make it as easy as we can, and we don't like to get to eminent domain. We like to work with people to reach a compromise," she said. "All I can say is we give them the fair market value that we can. We're not trying to cheat people out of their money."

Homeowners like Hart say there's more to it.

"The thing is, we're going to have the road eight feet closer," he said. "We have a 100-year-old house with single pane windows, and just replacing those wood windows, keeping the integrity of the house is going to cost more than (what the agency has offered)."

Those families faced with eminent domain say their options are few.

Bartrop is putting her house on the market.

"I'm going to lose a lot of money when I sell it. The realtor already told us that," she said.

Ben Hart and his wife say they'll hold off as long as they can.

"We're not really sure what we want to do. I'd rather move, she'd rather stay so we'll see what happens," Hart said.

KBCI-TV2: http://www2.kbcitv.com