MoDOT Called Key 'Element' in Eminent Domain Law Changes: Washington MO Missourian, 9/8/06

By Ed Pruneau

Past problems with the way the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) used its eminent domain authority was a key "element" in crafting changes in the law, Washington City Council members were told this week. Two Missouri senators who addressed the council on the revised law criticized MoDOT's handling of eminent domain issues in the past.

"MoDOT screwed up," State Sen. John Griesheimer commented, referring to the acquisition several years ago of right of way for the Highway O improvement project in Franklin County.

"That project was an absolute mess," Griesheimer commented. He said it took five years for one property owner to get paid after challenging the condemnation award. "They made a monumental screw up" on the Highway O project, he said.

"All over the state, MoDOT has made a lot of screw-ups on right of way," the Washington lawmaker said. When property was acquired for the Route KK intersection improvements, MoDOT didn't use sales figures from this area, he said.

Griesheimer and State Sen. Chris Koster attended Tuesday's council meeting to explain how and why Missouri lawmakers revised the eminent domain law that regulates the acquisition of property for public purposes.

The visit was in response to recent statements by Mayor Dick Stratman who called it a bad law and suggested that the city may want to consider challenging it on constitutional grounds when the time comes to obtain right of way for the dual-lane Highway 100 project. The city and MoDOT have an agreement to share the cost of improving the highway from Washington to Interstate 44.

Griesheimer called it "shocking to me" that there disagreement about the bill.

The eminent domain issue was reviewed by a governor's task force then by a Senate committee working with several statewide organizations before it was approved by the Legislature.

"I never heard from anyone (about the bill) including the city. I understand you don't want to spend more money. But you still have the ability to use eminent domain for public purposes, Griesheimer said. "This is about one thing - money," he continued. "I'm sorry it's (Highway 100 project) going to cost more. It's my money, too. But we also have to preserve property rights."

Councilman Tim Brinker asked Koster if the "total issue" was with MoDOT. "I feel bad if you're saying this is all MoDOT's fault and they're not here to address that," Brinker said.

"MoDOT is an important element," Koster said. The Missouri Farm Bureau and MoDOT have had strong disagreements in the past over eminent domain, he noted.

As the bill was making its way through the Legislature, MoDOT officials came forward and asked some senators to take up their cause, Koster said. "No one would take up MoDOT's cause," he added.

"MoDOT wanted out of this bill, but we weren't going to let them out," Griesheimer declared.

Washington MO Missourian: http://www.zwire.com