Council vows to fight eminent domain attempt: Sunbury PA Daily Item, 8/25/06

By Rob Scott

If the Danville Area School District is serious about invoking eminent domain to build a consolidated elementary school on borough-owned land, the borough is serious about fighting to keep the property.

Council President Brian Witmer said Wednesday, "The only thing I can say is the borough will do what's right for the borough of Danville. If that means fighting it in court, that's what we'll do."

The issue of eminent domain came up at a school board meeting Tuesday when Danville businessman Gib Spradlin told board members Pennsylvania law allows a school district to invoke eminent domain if it is in the public's best interest.

Until a couple weeks ago, the school district and borough were in the process of negotiating a land swap: the district would give up F.Q. Hartman field in exchange for about 30 acres of borough farmland across from the high school.

The parking lot by Danville Elementary School was originally part of the deal, but school board members took it off the table.

However, council members felt the farmland was worth far more than F.Q. Hartman, which Mr. Witmer referred to as "a piece of junk ground," and pulled out of negotiations.

Council members were also concerned because the borough uses the farmland to dump sludge from the sewer plant. Even though the borough owns about 450 acres of farmland, it is allowed to dump sludge on approximately 173 of those acres.

Mr. Witmer referred to the sewer plant as "one of the most important parts of (the borough's) infrastructure" and said if the borough gave the land to the school district, or if it was taken from them, it could have far-reaching consequences.

"That land is too valuable to lose ... There's a big, big, big, big picture here," he said. "Several of us forgot that when we went into negotiations."

If the school district takes the farmland, the borough may have to dump its sludge in a landfill, which would cost about $114,000 a year, he said.

While board members didn't commit themselves to Mr. Spradlin's suggestion Tuesday, they were open to the suggestion and planned on having their solicitor look into the matter.

Mr. Witmer said he hadn't had a chance to talk to borough solicitors Michael Dennehy or Robert Marks yet, but believes the district probably has the ability to take the land.

So far, there has been no official word from the school district.

Mr. Witmer said: "As far as the borough of Danville is concerned, there is no issue ... until we get the paperwork that says they're invoking eminent domain."

But the very fact they're thinking about it obviously didn't sit well with him.

"It feels like they're trying to steal it off us," he said. "And you can print that."

Sunbury PA Daily Item: http://www.dailyitem.com