Jury hears eminent domain case: Argus Observer, Ontario OR, 4/13/07

By Andy Gates

A jury will decide today how much money the state of Oregon should pay to Poole Real Estate Corporation for four acres of land that was taken through eminent domain to be used for a key road project in Ontario.

Eminent domain is the constitutional power of government to seize private property for public use, and the Oregon Department of Transportation used that authority to take four acres of land Jan. 10, 2006, owned by Poole Real Estate Corporation (PREC), according to a jury synopsis of the case filed by the Oregon Department of Justice in Malheur County Circuit Court.

Jurors will determine how much compensation PREC should receive from the state for the land because amounts proposed by the two entities vary by around $1.4 million, according to the state’s jury synopsis.

The Oregon Department of Transportation asserts it should pay $238,400 for four acres of PREC land.

However, PREC claims the land is worth a lot more, or $1.6 million according to the state’s jury synopsis.

The PREC land will be used in a road project involving a newly constructed Yturri Beltline around Ontario that will connect to a new North Ontario Interchange at Interstate 84, according to the jury synopsis.

The purpose of the project is to reduce truck traffic through downtown Ontario — that traffic was a problem for city government and roadway maintenance, according to a trial memorandum from the Oregon Department of Justice on behalf of ODOT.

PREC property includes a lot near the I-84 interchange purchased in 1970 where a Shell station was built; an adjacent 10 acres was later purchased in the mid-1980s where a cardlock facility was erected; and then during the next several years PREC acquired additional land, according to a trial brief from PREC attorney John McCulloch Jr., Salem. The state argues the road project adds value to the four acres of land in question, but attorneys for PREC assert the land had an intended use before the project.

“The state’s experts contend that there are special benefits to the land after the project is completed and the owner’s experts deny that there are any,” according to the state’s trial memorandum.

However, PREC contends that before the project, the property would have been used to build a truck stop, along with additional land owned by PREC.

“The owner believes that before this project he had an integrated 15.19-acre parcel perfectly situated for development of a truck stop-travel center, and with a highest and best use therefore. Plaintiff’s (state) appraisers argue that the property had no such highest and best use; and that any very significant value of the property is only as a result of this state project,” according to McCulloch’s trial brief.

Jurors should determine the value of the four acres on the date of Jan. 10, 2006, according to the state’s jury synopsis. PREC contends the state took 2.67 acres in May 2002 for the Yturri Beltline construction, but during the next several years PREC acquired more land so it had a 15.19 acre “larger parcel,” from which the state is taking four acres, according to McCulloch’s trial brief. The state, however, claims PREC has around 12 acres of property remaining after the four acres is taken out, and the land is not all directly touching or utilized for the same uses, according to the state’s jury synopsis. The jury trial was held all week and is scheduled through today, according to the Malheur County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.

Argus Observer, Ontario OR: http://www.argusobserver.com