ECUA considers eminent domain: Pensacola FL News Journal, 5/8/07

By Jamie Page

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority [ECUA] is considering using eminent domain to take a small property for one of the many steps in relocating the Main Street wastewater treatment plant.

ECUA staff believe the utility could need to take the property against the owner's will and pay the owner fair market value. So to stay on the five-year timetable put on the FEMA money for the $300 million project, ECUA has to be prepared to use eminent domain if needed, said Rich Barlow, an attorney for ECUA.

The odoriferous plant has to be moved and the project complete by September 2009.

Moving it means a lot more than building a new facility more centrally located in the county. For one thing, sewer lift stations will be required to move wastewater because the flow will need to be transported against natural gravity flow to the new plant site. A lift station uses a pump to move liquid sewage uphill.

An ECUA study performed by consulting engineers identified the best route for the transmission lines and the best locations for lift stations. The ideal site for a regional station the study says is 1750 N. Palafox St., a property ECUA is having trouble purchasing.

So it may have to use eminent domain, and they'll ask the city council's permission Thursday. ECUA is required to get approval by the council to use eminent domain within the city, according to state enabling legislation that created ECUA.

The property is the site of the old Medical Center Clinic building; now vacant since suffering heavy hurricane damages.

ECUA needs a small portion of the land but not the building, ECUA board chairman W. Logan Fink said in a letter to the city.

The property was previously owned by Service Metro Corp. and was the subject of foreclosure proceedings in state court. Legal inquiry revealed there may be liens on the property, Barlow said. Because a clear title hasn't been established, it has made it difficult to buy it from its previous owner.

Palafox Partners LTD now owns the property, but ECUA has not yet made an offer to that company.

A recent appraisal done for ECUA says the property, including the building, is valued at $1.2 million.

Said Councilman Mike DeSorbo: "This has definite impacts on the movement of that plant. We need to do what we need to do."

Pensacola FL News Journal: http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com