Judge rules for port authority in eminent domain case: The Business Journal of Jacksonville FL, 12/21/06

By Tony Quesada

The Jacksonville Port Authority can proceed with exercising eminent domain to take property owned by Keystone Coal Company, a judge ruled Thursday.

Circuit Judge Jean Johnson, in 28-page order, found that the authority met its burden in establishing a public purpose and reasonable necessity to take the 65-acre parcel.

The judge did not find merit in Keystone's arguments that the authority acted in bad faith or abused its discretion.

She wrote that based on "constitutional and legislative provisions, the port authority's acquisition and development of property for the purpose of leasing the property to private companies for their use is a public purpose."

She also ruled that the determination of whether the taking is necessary is a legislative decision that the court should tread lightly on.

"We felt we had the better side of the argument," said Joel Settimbrini, lead counsel for the port authority. "There's a wealth of legislation finding that port authorities are good for the people of the state of Florida."

Johnson added that case law and statutes in Florida favor public development of port facilities "without regard" to whether it will benefit a private entity. Keystone had made an issue of the fact that the authority has a tentative agreement to lease the land to a competitor of Keystone.

Johnson wrote that a port authority being able to acquire suitable property ensures that such property will be available for port facilities. She said that allows a port authority "to exercise control over the property's use, so that development of the port is not left to the whims of private owners or the vagaries of the marketplace."

Settimbrini found that language insightful, saying that the property being taken "will be held in public trust for the good of the community as it evolves over time." He said the port authority filed for condemnation "only after a painstaking process that considered whether the property was being used. This property was a closed paper mill."

Simon Bloom, lead counsel for Keystone, said he had not had a chance to review the ruling.

The Business Journal of Jacksonville FL: http://jacksonville.bizjournals.com