Eminent domain used to advance pipeline: Somerset PA Daily American, 3/14/07

By Judy D J Ellich

The Somerset County [PA] General Authority has filed an eminent domain proceeding against a Boswell landowner to obtain a right of way for the Quemahoning pipeline project.

This is the first time the county has had to use eminent domain to obtain property for the project, county Solicitor Dan Rullo said. The county has obtained 127 of the 163 rights of way needed, according to county trail coordinator Brett Hollern.

“We are at 78 percent now,” he said.

Robert W. Gohn, who lives along Blacks Hill Road in Jenner Township, will be notified about the action Friday, Rullo said.

“I have not heard from them officially,” Gohn said Tuesday.

“The way this agreement reads. I just couldn't do it,” he added. “Once I sign it, they could do whatever they wished. They could put in more pipelines and more manholes.”

Gohn said he believes eminent domain affords him more protection.

“Eminent domain does kind of protect us poor folks out here,” he said. “They can put in what they need for the good of the public and not take more as near as I understand it. I didn't ask for this problem to begin with. I was going along pretty happy.”

Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for public use.

The right of way team is still in the process of obtaining the additional rights of way that require individual attention, Rullo said.

Michael Lear, a team member, has been working with Gohn for this project.

“He is a nice gentleman. He was very upfront,” Lear said.

The county is purchasing rights of way that are approximately 20 feet wide. The acquisition costs for all similar properties has been $3 per linear foot of permanent right of way and $1 per linear foot of temporary right of way, Rullo said. Temporary rights of way will be used to stockpile dirt and pipeline during construction.

An engineer technician with Somerset Planning & Engineering Services, Lear said having to go through a condemnation process will not change how Gohn is treated.

“We will do the best we can to restore his property to his liking the same as anybody else,” he said.

Members of the rights of way team have tried to meet one-on-one with landowners to review the project with them, tell them how it will affect their area and discuss the benefits of the Quemahoning pipeline.

Any land seized by eminent domain will be appraised to make sure the landowner receives market value for the property.

“The filing of the eminent domain proceedings will require a hearing before a board of view to determine if this right of way causes any diminution in his market value,” Rullo said in an e-mail.

Rullo said the county had exhausted all efforts in attempting to reach an agreement with Gohn.

A project of this magnitude usually requires municipalities to obtain about 10 percent of the rights of way via eminent domain, Rullo said, citing information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, which is lending money for the project.

“I'm pleased this far into the process we do not have to have multiple takings,” he said.

Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes was among the property owners who signed agreements allowing the pipeline to proceed through their property.

“Everybody understands that this project is very vital to the future of the county,” Tokar-Ickes said.

County officials have contacted all of the remaining property owners who have not signed a right of way agreement.

“We are dealing with different issues with all of them,” Hollern said. “We are making some headway and we hope to wrap things up here in the next few weeks.”

Once the agreements are in hand, money can be released for construction.

The $23.9 million project will lay 22 miles of pipeline from the Quemahoning Reservoir to Somerset Borough, feeding water to municipalities in northern and central Somerset County. The pipeline will proceed primarily along state Route 985.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the next couple months. It is to be finished within 18 months.

Somerset PA Daily American: http://www.dailyamerican.com