County to use eminent domain in land dispute: Wilkes-Barre PA Citizens Voice, 2/6/07

By Michael P Buffer

Luzerne County [PA] is using eminent domain to end a dispute with a property owner who bought Plymouth land near the levee built along the Susquehanna River in 2002.

The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority voted Monday to use eminent domain to acquire roughly 5,100-square-feet of property at 430-432 Beade St. Eminent domain is a legal process that allows the taking of private property for a public purpose in exchange for fair market compensation.

The county and property owner Walter Sims of Shickshinny have struggled to agree on a compensation amount. Last week, Sims protested the dispute by blocking the walkway along the levee with plastic fences.

“I don’t want to stop people from walking,” Sims said during Monday’s authority meeting. “I felt real bad about doing it. ... I’m not removing it.”

“We’ll take the fence down,” county Commissioner Todd Vonderheid responded.

The authority held a special meeting Monday to take the property through eminent domain. The county will make a compensation offer after getting a new appraisal of the property with the levee, and if the county and Sims still can’t agree on compensation, a court-appointed board will decide the amount, Solicitor Jim Blaum said.

An appraisal of the property with the levee estimated it was worth $4,900, county Engineer Jim Brozena said. Sims bought the entire property for $2,041 on Oct. 31, 2002, records show.

Sims said he rents the two-unit house on the property, which was 50-feet wide and 200-feet long before the eminent domain action.

The county built the levee on the property before Sims bought the property in a sale of properties that owe back taxes, Brozena said. The son of the previous property owner gave the county permission to build the levee while she was in a nursing home, Brozena said.

Vonderheid said the county should have bought the property when it was up for sale in 2002.

Construction on the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project began in spring 1997, and a $145 million phase of the project was done in January 2003. That phase added new levees on the West Side from Wyoming to Plymouth.

Wilkes-Barre PA Citizens Voice: http://www.zwire.com